How To Drive Innovation Culture In Sustainable Building

Architectural Record and software maker Sefaira presented a webinar last week about the challenges of leading in this complex and continuously changing field. One of the most salient analogies for leading and innovating compared car maker Tesla and their method for opening up room for innovation to that employed by the building industry. It’s interesting that the approaches are opposite. Tesla, whose batteries we’ve blogged recently, has had the luxury of starting off with a very high end niche product with few or no compromises (their luxury electric car) and then building the brand by creating lower cost vehicles that model their aspirations but for a broader market. 

One presenter, Premnath Sundharam talked about how the building industry, counter to Tesla’s method, has relied on incremental change to innovate in creating high performance buildings. He said that 2030 Challenge is his preferred tool for setting a sustainability agenda in his and his firm’s consulting work, largely because it has clear goals and deadlines. One approach they use is creating ‘net zero ready’ buildings when clients or budgets don’t allow for meeting meaningful high performance goals. In this approach, buildings are designed such that equipment for on site energy generation could be installed at a later date, bringing the building to net zero performance.

Another presenter, Jeffrey Till of Perkins and Will (P & W) had some good insights into his firm’s culture of innovation. They’ve created an internal focus group on high performance buildings and regenerative design; focussing on improving human health and productivity. AREA is a P&W web site that they’ve created to hel communicate their ongoing high performance buildings research to the world.


Van Dusen Gardens visitor centre, a net zero building. Image from P& W.


Anastasia Huggins, of Gensler, and Roger Chang both spoke underlining approaches to building innovation culture within their respective firms. Anastasia outlined a step by step approach to sustainable building problem solving and Roger provided insights into some common pitfalls that impede innovation.

Is UBC’s CIRS the Greenest Building In North America?

The University of British Columbia has recently completed a progressive new building that sets the sustainabiliy and aesthetic bar for new buildings in Canada and if UBC’s own assertion regarding sustainability is correct, North America.

Their 60,000 square foot four storey new Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) aims for LEED Platinum (no shocker) and Living Building Challenge certification (much more interesting and difficult). Designed by architects Perkins & Will, if the building performs as predicted it will be one of only a handful of buildings in the world that provide net positive environmental impact.

One green green building construction strategy that’s particularly interesting is CIRS’ use of certified and beetle killed wood as the primary building material. The carbon sink function of this strategy has been detailed in earlier posts.


North America’s Most Sustainable Building
Greenest Building In Canada


Green Projects to Follow in 2013

Interesting green projectoink sting completion in 2013 include Bosco Verticale or Vertical Forest, two unique towers in Milan by architect Stefano Boeri, and Porsche Cars North American Headquarters by HOK. Both receive high marks for design and sustainability.

Bosco Verticale in particular has a unique approach as the smog scrubbing buildings with their heavily planted facades will absorb as much carbon as a 10,000 square meter forest.

Porsche HQ’s approach to sustainability echoes Porsche’s own ethos with a high performance building envelope and on site energy generation that put the project on track for LEED silver.

AZURE Ten Projects To Watch 2013