Answering the Challenge

June 12, 2006 · by DesignIntelligence

DesignIntelligence enlisted Ed Mazria in a brief Q&A to gain some valuable insight into his understanding of, motivation behind, and his firm's response to the 2030 °Challenge.

DesignIntelligence enlisted Ed Mazria in a brief Q&A to gain some valuable insight into his understanding of, motivation behind, and his firm's response to the 2030 °Challenge.

DesignIntelligence: How far back has your experience with sustainable design gone? Has the reception of ideas warmed? When did your firm really begin to focus on sustainable design?

Ed Mazria: It goes back to the first Middle East oil embargo of the 1970's. It was in the late 70's when we developed the design and calculation procedures for passive solar heating, cooling, natural ventilation and daylighting design. Over the years we have internalized these strategies so they are now a part of our design language.

Interest in solar energy, renewables, and sustainable design declined dramatically in the late 1980's, when oil dropped to $10 a barrel and the federal government cut funding for research. With climate change, terrorists targeting foreign oil and natural gas reserves, and peak oil and gas looming on the horizon, there is renewed interest in these strategies. In fact, the interest is greater now because the threat goes beyond simple economics.

DesignIntelligence: What has your success been in achieving carbon neutrality so far?

Ed Mazria: Most of our buildings achieve a 50% or greater reduction in energy consumption as compared to similar buildings in our area. Our philosophy has been to achieve the maximum reduction possible through design. We realized an 80% energy consumption reduction in the design of the Mt. Airy Public Library and the Stockebrand Residence and about 90% at the Rio Grande Conservatory in Albuquerque, the last time I checked. My own house operates with about a 70% reduction. It is a continual work in progress, an experiment of sorts, and so I intend to get it to carbon neutral soon.

DesignIntelligence: What tools and technology does your firm employ to address this challenge?

We use the same design principals we developed in the 70's. The sun has not changed so the principals are still valid. We do use computer simulations earlier in the design process now and are experimenting with E-Quest, a user friendly version of DOE2.

DesignIntelligence: Have you faced challenges with suppliers and obtaining materials that meet your building needs?

Ed Mazria: No, not at all, because most of the materials we specify are not very exotic.

DesignIntelligence: How have your clients responded to costs associated with buildings embracing sustainable ideals? How have you addressed this in the design process?

Ed Mazria: Most of our projects are for government, non-profit, and institutional clients with fixed budgets. We must meet the budget just like any other architecture firm, otherwise we end up reworking the design and creating extra work for ourselves. We are able to achieve major energy reductions in most of our projects through design, through building massing and orientation, fenestration location, and the incorporation of passive heating, cooling, natural ventilation, and daylighting design strategies. In some projects we can bring the building in under budget by downsizing or eliminating some mechanical systems, in others it comes down to the careful selection of materials.

In a recent lecture, I answered the question of "how much extra will it cost?" this way: Give ten architects the same building to design, the same site, program and budget. You will get back ten completely different building designs, some extremely efficient and some not, all within the same budget. It all depends on the education and creative ability of the architects (and their engineers).

DesignIntelligence: How do you feel we might get builders (clients, designers, etc.) to answer the higher calling of sensible, sustainable design rather than the bottom line?

Ed Mazria: Have them talk with their children and grandchildren about this issue.

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