With advances in building techniques and evolving consumer demands, more urban designers, planners, architects, Realtors and consumers are developing more healthy, space-efficient buildings and homes that are both sustainable and environmentally friendly.
By Michael J. Pallerino
In his book, “Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature,” Doug Farr paints a clear picture as to where the future of residential and commercial building may be heading. In a time when environmental consciousness is top of mind, Farr says urban designers, planners, architects, Realtors and consumers are insisting on healthy, space-efficient buildings that are both sustainable and environmental friendly.
Ask Farr about building trends and materials in today’s ever-changing marketplace, and he’ll talk about developments that utilize geothermal designs, displacement ventilation and raised floors. He’ll describe projects that feature recycled content in the areas of ceramic tiles and biocomposites such as wheat bond and sunflower seed boards.
“You cannot talk about building trends and materials these days without talking about the green factor,” says Farr, who recently received an email from a European colleague who attended a speech by the Prince of Whales. The email provided a glimpse on the trends that designers, planners, architects, developers and Realtors will be following closely in the coming years, as Europe continues to set the pace for building design and planning.
All new buildings in Europe are on pace to have a zero carbon rating by 2011. And, to further enhance its goal, sustainable development education continues to be integrated into the region’s school curriculum.
According to projections from the United Nations Environment Program, by 2030, 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities, fueled by migration from rural areas and the transformation of towns into what is likely to be increasingly unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional cities, particularly in the developing world.
“[Europe is] way ahead of us on this,” says Farr, president of Farr Associates, a firm focused on effective design and planning strategies that are environmentally responsive to issues such as energy conservation. “But, we are seeing tangible returns on energy costs solutions. Right now, a narrow segment of the market [are exploring green solutions].
“Realtors will be on the front lines of doing good, of connecting buyers and sellers on this [green] movement,” Farr adds. “It’s easier to sell green upgrades. The devil is really in the details. If it’s not more expensive, they’ll take a look at it. But I think you’re going to see people look more closely at these innovations.”
Hence the book, in which Farr says can serve as a blueprint of innovative building techniques that can be applied to new developments. He should know. In 2005, Farr Associates became the first firm in the world to design two LEED Platinum-rated buildings, The Chicago Center for Green Technology and the Center for Neighborhood Technology.
Cutting-edge design strategies will include such techniques as displaced ventilation, an air distribution system in which incoming air originates at floor level and rises to exhaust outlets at the ceiling. Incoming air is delivered to interior rooms by way of floor-level vents.
This incoming air displaces upper air, which is exhausted through ceiling-level vents. Because displacement ventilation systems typically use 100 percent outdoor air, air pollutants generated within the building are removed at the source and are not re-circulated. In addition, heat generated by ceiling-level lights is removed and, thus, heat is not included when estimating building cooling loads.
James DeStefano, CEO of DeStefano + Partners, says such techniques are in line with the sustainability and energy consciousness employed by today’s builders, engineers and architects. This can be seen in the way builders are utilizing the natural resources in the operation, a strategy that is more sophisticated in everything from materials such as glass and construction methodology.
“We’re not building the way we did 50 years ago,” DeStefano says. “The technology has increased. For example, with the advent of building composites, we’re not talking about building a building piece-by-piece or brick-by-brick.”
DeStefano says that U.S. builders and developers are behind the curve when it comes to energy consciousness. “You really saw that trend happening in Europe 20 to 25 years ago,” he says. “It’s taken a long time for us, but people are really starting to get it. And the consumer is starting to demand it. Before, you would hear people say that being energy conscious [and examining ways to incorporate it into the building process] was something that other people did. Not now. People are getting it.”
All about the living
There was a time when a consumer may have run from the notion of buying a home that featured floor-to-ceiling windows, instead opting for more traditional punch opening designs. But according to Scott Hoskins, the times are changing.
Hoskins says more educated consumers can understand the concept of UV-insulated glass systems that help manage a room’s heating and cooling abilities by keeping heat in during the winter and reflecting outside heat away from the windows in the summer.
Consumers are also able to wrap their minds around the post-tensioning, a building technique that produces a reinforced concrete beam with a positive camber that is able to withstand greater loads without bending.
“There are so many more options available to today’s consumer,” says Hoskins, president and managing broker for CMK Realty. “Perhaps no option is more prevalent than green building. It’s a good thing, no doubt about it.”
Hoskins says the green movement has helped open up some of the projects he is working on. For example, some CMK buildings have rooftop green spaces.
Chris Shaxted, executive VP of Lakewood Homes, says that the movement toward more green buildings and homes, and the sustainability of these products is a reflection on the smart market out there.
For example, Lakewood Homes is seeing a trend toward smaller, more efficient, low-maintenance styles in the 2,700-square-foot range. Shaxted says this is the first time in 30 years that the size of homes has decreased.
Today’s home typically will be better designed, with more wall space, extra rooms and second-floor family rooms for the kids. Maintenance is another key factor for today’s suburban buyer. “That’s a big issue,” Shaxted says. “We’re seeing trends like more vinyl on the outside of the home, because it is easier to maintain. Today’s homes must be stylish, but they must be efficient. The designs are so tight that it’s hard to take a dollar out of it. It’s real hard to do. What you end up with is a good design and a good value.”
Shaxted says the methods of building haven’t changed, but efficiencies have gotten better. “There’s a value position that today’s buyers are looking for,” he says. “What they are looking for more than anything else is a sense of community: recreational facilities with meeting rooms, tennis courts, pools, etc. The younger buyers are more concerned with this.”
Keeping up the pace
For Thomas Roszak, president of Roszak/ADC, trends in building are pretty straightforward. “It’s 2007, so we should be building and thinking like it’s 2007,” he says. “We should be using the trends and technology that’s available. We shouldn’t be looking backward.”
Roszak’s philosophy is not only based on the fact that today’s consumer is more educated and more demanding than he ever was, but also that technology is such an ally for today’s builder.
“With all the advances in audio visual and computers, consumers have a whole approach to how they control their homes,” he says. “They can sit with their laptop on vacation and control the lighting, temperature and security.”
Roszak also says builders have had to adapt to the way people are living today. “There’s a whole work-live concept that you have to take into consideration,” he says. “People are looking at location, views, space and technology. It’s all about trying to create different kinds of structure to what they need and making use of all the space. It’s about what’s appropriate for each customer. ‘Appropriate’ is the key word. It’s value engineering.”
And part of this engineering is working within the guidelines of the green movement. Roszak says that while green developers seem like pioneers today, in five to 10 years these techniques and strategies may be code, and sustainability will be commonplace.
“The whole movement is gaining momentum,” he says. “And it is not only smart and responsible, but easy to do. There is a cost premium, so it’s about maintaining an edge in the whole process.”
DeStefano says Chicago is the kind of city that will continue to embrace the trends as they happen. “Chicago is a unique city with a lot of construction happening,” he says. “The biggest change I’ve seen over the past 10 years is that the city really didn’t relish in tall buildings. This wasn’t part of the design and planning process. Today, the position is much different. Builders and planners have seen that tall buildings help open the city up to more light and air. This has really helped in the urban planning area.”
He says the strategy is already paying off. “For years, the thought process was to keep the size down,” he says. “But what they’ve seen is that height isn’t that bad. And the end user — the consumer — appreciates it more. In many respects, it has helped Chicago be more of a 24-hour city than it was 25 years ago.” C.A.
DeStefano + Partners
Executive Vice President