“Soft infrastructure” is crucial for a post-carbon world
“Soft infrastructure” is crucial for a post-carbon world
This article originally appeared on Common Edge.
On a recent day in Santa Monica, California, visitors sat in the shaded courtyard outside of East Town Hall while waiting for their dates. One of them ate a slice of orange that she had plucked from the tree above her and gazed at the paintings, photographs and assemblages on the other side of the glass. The exhibit, Lives that Bind, featured expressions of erasure and under-representation of local artists in Santa Monica’s past. This is part of a city government effort to use the soon to be certified new living building (designed by Frederick Fisher and Partners) as a catalyst for building an environmentally, socially and economically self-sufficient community.
“We have very high ceilings, so we can light up the space and take advantage of the natural ventilation,” explained Amber Richane, senior project manager at the City of Santa Monica. “It’s not a plush building, but people come in and say, ‘Wow. It’s a well-defined building. It’s a place I belong to.
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The City Hall East project should be a glimpse of the future, if recent discussions on ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ infrastructure are highlighted at the upcoming international climate conference COP 26. of an equivalent failing ‘infrastructure’ to a structurally faulty bridge seemed crazy to everyone (except parents of young children). But the pandemic has revealed an underlying reality that the purpose of all infrastructure, whether soft or hard, is to keep society running. As Emily Peck reported in the New York Times, “[t]The Biden administration and its allies defend the idea that caring for children, the sick and the elderly is just as crucial to the proper functioning of the economy as any road, power grid, or building.
The soft / hard infrastructure debate also points to a fundamental (but often hidden) truth about climate-sensitive design. It is not enough to design and build a building that, on paper, is net zero and resilient to weather events. Engineers and architects should ask customers which systems make sense for the future, given the expectations of how the building will be managed. Likewise, the contribution of the community is necessary to identify the climatic challenges that the future occupants will face.
Developer Susan Powers discovered this firsthand when her company Urban Ventures set out to convert the Sisters of St. Francis seminary property in Denver, Colo. Into a sustainable mixed-use, mixed-income planned community called Aria. Denver. Responsible for building a community that promotes active living and access to healthy food, Powers and his colleagues sought advice from surrounding neighborhoods. “We went out and found non-traditional partners from the start,” she said. “We heard what their needs were and we tried to meet them. In one case, we found a grant to install bicycle racks in an elementary school. The director said, “For what? And we found out that the kids didn’t have bikes. So we found a source to provide a bicycle, helmet and lock for each child in the school.
Aria Denver includes many features that may become common in a post-carbon world, including a 1 acre production farm with a ‘pay what you can’ farm stand that could also be used to bridge a chain disruption. food supply after a climate event, as well as street design that encourages carbon-neutral modes of transport such as cycling and walking.
Powers and his team soon realized that they needed to provide social infrastructure to support the use of development’s physical infrastructure. “For the first four years,” Powers explained, “we received a grant from the Colorado Health Foundation to fund an active living coordinator, a full-time person who organized yoga in Spanish and English, a group of walking and other support services. Biggest challenge now [16 years in] is that you need staff to make available the programs that attracted people to join the Aria community in the first place.
The green building industry has been grappling with this issue for over a decade. When LEED for New Construction was first launched, it was embraced by many in the industry with the assumption that the operational savings promised through the energy model would automatically materialize. Instead, a 2008 post-occupancy study conducted by the New Buildings Institute found that while LEED-certified buildings perform on average 24% better than buildings with minimum code compliance, buildings are energy efficient. Individuals varied considerably. The efficient buildings canceled out the worst performing buildings. Additionally, buildings with higher LEED certification levels did not necessarily use less energy per square foot than buildings with lower certification. When the researchers took a closer look to try to understand how their data could have produced such discouraging results, they found that most buildings had to be adjusted and balanced for a year after construction was completed in order to begin to build. approximate the energy consumption calculated by the model. Despite strong evidence that LEED buildings must be operated according to design criteria, 13 years later, LEED for new construction continues to require commissioning only during the design process and has never required that projects certified sign up for LEED for Existing Buildings: Operation and Maintenance. . Why? Because the capital and operating budgets are separate in most areas.
The convergence of interests in climate change, health and social equity may have finally started to tip the scales towards the integration of soft and hard infrastructure for buildings. At COP 26, the United States will submit an updated five-year climate action plan. Like other signatories to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the first round of policy actions proposed by the United States focused on centralized and heavily regulated industries, such as coal-fired power plants and vehicle emissions. As we begin to harness the carbon reduction benefits that large-scale centralized policies can achieve, attention will naturally turn to the second source of greenhouse gas emissions: buildings. It is clear that we can tip the balance when it comes to climate action, if the objectives of physical and physical infrastructure are integrated into the building design process.
Santa Monica’s East Town Hall exemplifies this promise. Not only is the building energy and water neutral, it is also an essential service building, designed to continue to function even after a major earthquake. “Composting toilets work in the event of a power failure, although ventilation may be reduced,” says Richane. “We have a water treatment plant on site, which allows us to treat the water in the event of a mainline rupture. We can regulate the temperature using opening windows. And the furniture can be removed to turn the building into an emergency shelter. The design, operations and intentional role of the Town Hall Annex in the community combine to anchor the concepts of the Paris Climate Agreement – climate change mitigation, resilience and equity – in reality. daily life of the residents of Santa Monica who use the building.
After all, buildings are where all of these complex societal issues encounter everyday life – and sometimes break down: buildings are responsible for 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions; they become a place of refuge during climatic events; but if systems fail or structures collapse, they can lead to injury and death. Housing is also the largest reservoir of household wealth in the United States. Today, the wealth of the average White American family is eight times that of the average African American family and five times that of the average Hispanic family, in part because of discriminatory real estate practices like redlining.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that each of these challenges would be best addressed separately. But this is not possible with the design of buildings. Each design project, whether new construction or renovation, synthesizes financial, regulatory, programmatic and community needs into a cohesive vision. A statement at COP 26 stating that buildings in context should anchor all future climate change policies would only echo a reality that a growing number of projects have started to recognize: that building design balances infrastructure material and material is the obvious path to a sustainable future. .