Chicago architects accept COP21′s challenge of greener building
The pledges made at COP21 and the Paris Agreement post serious challenges, not only for the world leaders but also for businesses in local communities tasked with reaching carbon emission reduction goals.
Chicago architect Arathi Gowda should know – he attended COP21.
“Globally, building related carbon emission contributed to one third of the total emission but in Chicago, building contributed to 70 percent of city’s carbon emission,” said Arathi Gowda, the associate director of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, or SOM. “This is the first time where cities and regional government is siting with the national government and this is the first year that there was a day for building.”
Gowda said Illinois is the state with the most Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified building and Chicago alone has more 400 LEED certified space. Even with the highest number of LEED certified buildings, Chicago is still looking at multiple ways to cut down their greenhouse gas (GHG) emission.
One of the latest projects for SOM was the new Chicago Public library in Chinatown, sitting right in between the old and new Chinatown and right at the exit of the Cermak CTA station.
“The challenges were highly sustainable, different and a bridge between the old and new Chinatown,” said Adam Semel, the managing director at SOM, also the manager of the Chinatown project.
A solar shading screen glass curtain wall reduces heat gain but doesn’t reduce the natural light. The choice reduced energy consumption by 44 percent and just a shot away from LEED platinum certification.
“It’s not just the environmental benefits but also the neighborhood and community benefits way of thinking,” Semel said.
The library is placed right in the center of the old, new Chinatown and also the CTA station. It provided a place for people of all ages to gather.
It is an often misconception that buildings made with glass are sustainable building.
“Glass technology certainly improved a lot over the years but when you see all glass building, they are not all vision glass, so there are areas not insulated, which becomes not sustainable in terms of energy,” said Semel.
Glass is the new main building material that architects prefer; however, the knowledge on the technology and coding of glass is not widely recognizable and can be easily mistaken.
Besides just designing and constructing new buildings that conserve energy, the City of Chicago has pushed forward the plan, Retrofit Chicago, that takes existed buildings and gave them a challenge to reduce energy by 20% in five years. This is a challenge that is not only for engineers and architects.
“The building itself can only do so much, now the tenants’ behavior have a lot of impact on efficiency,” said Gowda. “We still want to be community driven, otherwise what is the point using all that effort to making something that’s not lively and fun.”
There is only so much that the architects and engineers can do in their design and technology to reduce carbon emission.
“It’s about the client relationship, finding that client that want to do the best and also willing to spend the money,” Gowda said.
However, Gowda said having a regulatory policy will definitely help. People in leadership roles need to step up, motivate educate the public and private sectors that there is more than just money when using the natural resources.
“The natural resources are labeled with a price that doesn’t take in account of the million of years that it took to form,” Gowda said.
Shared responsibility is a familiar motto among the firm.
“It is on everyone,” Semel said. “We have all the knowledge and technology available to us. It is the pervasive thinking on spending more money and that there is not an environmental cost to polluting and using up natural resources, the biggest challenge.”