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The Living Building Challenge: Visionary from the Start October 14, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — pohlrosapohl @ 8:42 am

By Clive Pohl, AIA, LEED AP

ilbDesigners and builders have long looked to rating systems for “how-to” guidance on green building. From the early days of the current environmental movement they were intended to serve as recipes for improved performance and environmental stewardship. Looking back at the earliest iterations we see a snapshot in time that describes a tension between our desire to improve and the relentless influence of market forces.

Variations in the early standards were a reflection of their author’s priorities. Some were heavily influenced by corporate interests who professed a commitment to sound environmental practices – until it impacted their bottom line. Some positioned themselves just ahead of the marketplace in a mission to gently lead economic transformation while others, in recognition of a rising carbon count, ignored economic constraints and advocated for a leap beyond sustainability toward a regenerative approach. After all, describing a marriage as merely “sustainable” would not be high praise. Perceived as too expensive these standards were mostly ignored.

Though they all sought popular embrace it was, of course, impossible for one standard to provide universal satisfaction. After all, much of the construction industry held fast to the notion that a market economy is America’s only true core value.

As the aughts became the teens the plight of the polar ice caps entered mainstream consciousness, catastrophic weather patterns became increasingly commonplace, and our complicity in climate change more widely accepted. Jurisdictions around the country began to embrace legislation requiring credible compliance, building codes were rewritten to reflect increased urgency, and an army of skeptics (from architects and engineers to general contractors and their subs) had no choice but to hook up to the bandwagon. Even reluctant manufacturers began to recognize the value in environmental branding and compliant materials became increasingly affordable. The marketplace was transforming.

Rating systems, too, evolved to reflect this new economic paradigm and while consensus remains a distant target it is safe to say that they are becoming increasingly alike. They are, in fact, learning from and moving toward the most ambitious and visionary standard, the one that never allowed economic forces to dictate: the Living Building Challenge (LBC). Launched in 2006 the uncompromising principles described by the LBC attract the curiosity of the others with a gravitational pull commensurate to the ever-widening recognition that we have run out of time to simply reduce our environmental impact. In fact, the extent of our past misdeeds demand that we must, as quickly as possible, learn how to build environments that surpass sustainability by replenishing and recharging our resources. Anything less would be like approving spousal abuse as long as it is “occasional”.

Utilizing the metaphor of a flower the LBC posits that buildings should, like flowers, be rooted in place, harvest all of their energy and water on site, be entirely pollution free, and support the larger community through equity and inspiration. These are principles that were inconceivable to the earliest rating system authors and, yet, they represent a target that has been certifiably attained by 25 industry leaders with many more closing in.

Organized by seven “Petals” and 20 subset “Imperatives” the LBC standard further expands the definition of minimum requirement by going beyond the usual standards. It insists that our built environment should

  1. Give Back. Net POSITIVE water, energy and waste means that these buildings are providing energy and water for others and putting waste back into productive use.
  2. Reconnect. Biophilic design principles seek to right a long standing imbalance  by encouraging daily connection with nature. We spend 90% of our lives indoors. Even our neighbor’s access to nature cannot be impeded.
  3. Inspire. Recognizing the value of both sides of the brain the standard encourages an embrace of design elements solely for human delight – alongside the analytics that ensure efficient performance.
  4. Respect. By creating built environments that uphold the dignity of all members of society regardless of their physical or economic capacity the LBC aims to harness the power of transparency as a force for social change. Some LBC programs worthy of further exploration: the JUST Program for social justice, the DECLARE Label for chemical toxin transparency and the new Equitable Offset Program which accumulates funds to provide renewable energy infrastructure for charitable enterprises.

Beyond continued advocacy one can only give thanks to visionaries like co-creator Jason McLennan who chose to see beyond the allure of the almighty dollar and to believe that humanity can, if so informed, live in a “socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative” manner. While this is clearly easier said than done, the way is being paved and the rest of us must simply face in the right direction and place one foot in front of the other.

 

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Rethinking the Ranch August 14, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — pohlrosapohl @ 10:18 am

ranchBy Krisia Rosa AIA

If you grew up in a new suburb in the ’60s or ’70s, chances are your first home was a ranch. A uniquely American concept, the ranch house celebrates our ability to sprawl across the once-rural landscape by expanding horizontally rather than stacking box on top of box – hence it’s other name, the “rambler.” Lexington’s population boomed during this time, driving the real estate market to respond with an expanse of suburbs, especially to the south and west. Because of this boom, the city is blessed with an abundance of ranch houses, from the neo-eclectic examples lining Chinoe between Cooper and Alumni drives to the more traditional ranches in neighborhoods such as Glendover, Lansdowne and Mount Vernon.

History of the Ranch

Architectural historians trace the origin of the ranch house to North American Spanish colonial residential architecture of the 17th to 19th centuries. The style exploded in popularity with the post-WWII baby boom, especially in California and the Midwest.

The ranch is the essence of simplicity and as such became the perfect model for tract housing. The Levittowns suburban developments of the late ’40s and ’50s gave way to the ranch-filled suburbs of the ’60s and ’70s. The simple construction and lack of superfluous detail made the houses economical to produce and the efficient floor plans made the most of the modest square footage. Consumers embraced the casual lifestyle promoted by the informal layout, especially the ability to easily move outside to a deck or patio.

The move away from the ranch began in the late 1970s, as American consumer taste began to favor larger houses with historic detailing. At the same time, land prices and development costs were on the rise and lot sizes were shrinking. Since buyers wanted larger homes, builders went up two or three stories rather than expanding out horizontally. Where the post-war decades were about returning to normalcy and raising a family, the ’80s were about striving for more. Television entertainment morphed from “The Brady Bunch” and “Dick Van Dyke” to “Dynasty” and “Dallas.” People wanted to live the dream being spun by the media: A successful and desirable lifestyle requires a residence with wings and multiple stories. Americans became bored with the suburbs, desiring a taste of wealth and opulence, and houses sprouted gables and illogical building jogs, evoking the illusion of old manses that had evolved over time. Consumers equated sophistication with elaborate mouldings, chair rails and fancy stairs – stylistic details that were often applied without regard to historic precedents. Similarly, rooms were added without regard to living habits, resulting in formal dining and living rooms that sat empty while the inhabitants gathered in their kitchens and family rooms. Developers built two-story foyers that few people used, because in our culture we enter the house from the garage.

Ranch Redux

Fast forward to 2015 and buyers are once again embracing the ranch house. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, one-story homes are now selling for considerably more per square foot than houses with multiple stories. Apparently two types of buyers are interested in one-story floor plans: empty nesters who want to age without stairs and young parents who are looking for family togetherness and ease of indoor-outdoor living.

One of the main reasons for buying and renovating a ranch is that they are characteristically easy to remodel – many ranch homes are framed with roof trusses and no interior bearing walls. This means interior walls can be removed and small rooms combined to make a single large room. Opening the kitchen to the dining room or enlarging a master bath can usually be accomplished with minimal structural intervention.

Another plus: Suburbs built during the ranch houses heyday now have mature trees. Their streets are shady and lush, their gardens are well established. In addition, suburbs built during the ’60s and ’70s are typically more conveniently located near shopping and restaurants than the newer, outside of Man-O’ War residential developments.

What to Consider

Those considering buying a ranch should keep in mind that the quality of their construction covers a wider range than some other stylistic periods. Some exterior finishes introduced in the ’60s and ’70s that complemented the lines of the ranch (like T1-11, a plywood siding) ended up deteriorating more quickly than expected. Less reputable developers saw the simplicity of the ranch as an opportunity to build cheaply. If you are thinking of downsizing to a ranch, consider seeking the advice of an experienced architect who can help you evaluate the potential for renovation, as well as advise on conditions that need attention.

Residential architecture is a bit like fashion in that styles fall in and out of favor. The ranch house, however, has attributes that make it an enduring staple of America’s housing stock – it’s our “little black dress.” Lexingtonians will be enjoying their one-story wonders for decades to come.

 

Spring Lawn Checklist March 17, 2014

DSC_00031By Clive Pohl

In our ever increasing embrace embrace of environmental stewardship PRP would encourage our neighbors to embrace practices that allow us to look guilt free into the eyes of our grandchildren. When working in your yard this year consider doing the following.

  • Reduce the size your lawn and replace some lawn area with native, drought resistant, low maintenance species like groundcovers and ornamental grasses. For more ideas visit the Salato Center in Frankfort which hosts a Native Plant Program (502-564-5280).
  • Know that 17 million gallons of fuel are spilled annually while refueling lawn equipment, more than the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez. Take care when using this equipment or consider trading your mower in for an electric or push mower.
  • Use non-toxic alternatives to chemical-based weed ‘n’ feed products. Corn gluten (available at Tractor Supply stores) is a safe, effective, “pre-emergent” that adds nitrogen to your soil. More information on corn gluten HERE.
  • Do not use Roundup or related herbicides with glyphosate as an active ingredient. Despite claims to the contrary this product is acutely toxic to humans, earthworms, and beneficial insects, it reduces nitrogen fixation, and has been found to be persistent: 140 days were required for half of the applied glyphosate to break down or disappear from agricultural soils.
  • Consult with an experienced and knowledgeable (!) landscape professional and HAVE FUN out there this Spring!
 

Climate Change: Deniers Remain Entrenched by Clive Pohl July 30, 2013

Filed under: Climate Change,Global warming,Uncategorized — pohlrosapohl @ 10:32 am
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I enArctic-ice-cave-001gaged a disagreement with a friend this weekend over the causes of global warming. After the usual lines were drawn and my offer to share a mountain of credible data “proving” human culpability was left on the table I revisited the film Chasing Ice  (www.chasingice.com). It chronicles James Balog’s exhausting team effort to document the disappearance of our glaciers in the northern hemisphere. Early in his career Balog recognized that most people are unaffected by data, numbers, and the value of credible sources. After all, we can find “evidence” on the net to support just about any political posture. Vetting the credibility of the source requires time and sophistication beyond our 2 minute attention span. Balog’s solution: leave an impression in the viewer’s gut with stunning visual imagery at the confluence of art and science. “Chasing Ice” is a historic film that succeeds and I wholeheartedly recommend you watch it, share Balog’s time lapse imagery with a friend (www.extremeicesurvey.org), and consider these brief bullet points:

  • Man’s role in Global Warming has been confirmed and the mountain of evidence is readily available. This is not liberal propaganda. 1 million years of empirical evidence (the oxygen record) has been pulled up from inside layers of ice in Greenland and Antarctica and a clear pattern is evident: We are out of sync with natural oscillations and “Nature is not natural anymore”.
  • Exponential acceleration is evident: Greenland is losing ice 3 times faster than in the 1990’s. The Columbia Glacier in Alaska has receded 2 miles in 5 years. In less than 30 years, Glacial National Park will need a new name.
  • There is no disagreement among credible (peer reviewed) climatologists that accelerated global warming is underway, that the stakes are very high, and that the debate should now be focused upon how to address our culpability.
  • If we care about this precious blue planet then we should abide by the Precautionary Principle: If an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action (ie. industry dumping unacceptable levels of carbon into the atmosphere).

That said, pictures speak a thousand words.

 

Lexington Needs What Cincinnati Has March 26, 2013

By Clive Pohl

lexOne of the lessons that we denizens of capitalism are learning, however slowly, is that planning and investment in the distant future is an imperative. It is now more apparent than ever that reckless consumption through short-sighted decision making in building design and construction may save a dime up front but breaks the bank over time. Our children will pay the price if we are unwilling or unable to get beyond “talking the talk” and, at long last, “walk the walk”.

As an architect with over 25 years of experience in design, planning, and construction I offer the following observations:

1.  Money talks: It is widely recognized in design and planning circles that increasing density via pedestrian friendly, livable urban environments must be encouraged and that doing “the right thing” is not incentive enough. Even in the best of times building owners and jurisdictions need clear financial incentives. After years of recession this key point could not be more critical.
2.  LEED walks: The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Certification process provides a credible mechanism to minimize short sighted choices in the design and construction process. When one encounters the plaque on a certified building you can be confident that it stands for third party verification of responsible stewardship. It represents a reduction in the cost of health care (by minimizing exposure to toxins), a reduction in the cost of thermal comfort (by minimizing energy consumption), and a reduction in the depletion of our natural resources – to reference just a few components of LEED’s comprehensive program. It represents an elevated awareness on the part of the entire design and construction team and holds us ALL to a higher standard and a longer view.

So, how do we accomplish these seemingly impossible objectives as part of an informed long range vision?

Lexington needs what Cincinnati has: a successful incentive program to encourage reinvestment in the urban core and job creation through responsible building renovation and new construction. Cincinnati’s Community Reinvestment Area (CRA) Tax Abatement Program encourages LEED Certification by offering up to 15 years of tax relief (with higher levels of certification resulting in more relief).

Implemented in 2007 and, after careful examination, amended and re-adopted in January 2013, the CRA Program is making money for the city and encouraging owners to invest more in their property.

In February of this year an email survey of property owners who received CRA Residential Tax Abatement between 2011 and 2013 confirmed that the program is working to encourage new construction and renovation in the city limits. The following testimonials (among others) were recently made public:

“As a long time (20 yr) resident in the city, there have been temptations to migrate to the ‘burbs’ only for the desire for a brand new, affordable home. The abatement made the decision to renovate and obtain “new” in my old home a much more enticing option. Keep these options coming to keep residents in the city limits!’
“The CRA tax abatement program is a tremendous tool to promote redevelopment and new construction of the city housing stock. The program should be advertised more aggressively by the city. Advertising the program to the outlying suburbs could encourage empty nesters to relocate into the city.”
“Myself and my close friends who have built LEED certified homes as a part of this program would not have built a home in the City of Cincinnati without this program. It was a great experience and has been highly beneficial to myself and my family. I have and will continue to refer this program to friends and colleagues.”

In the coming weeks I will be assembling the information needed to “make the case” for Lexington’s version of the CRA Tax Abatement Program. With the help of Sanyog Rathod of SOL Development (a Cincinnati based architect and Certified Green Rater for the LEED for Homes program) we will attempt to answer the first and most important question: can we afford it?

Stay tuned.

 

“God is in the details” –Mies van der Rohe February 27, 2013

photoThe purpose of architecture is to plan, design, and build environments that express the vision of the individual. Part of this process is discovering what makes these environments work for our clients….and for ourselves. Fabulous details that make homes and offices function beautifully are the heart and soul of custom design. PRP is taking a look at details that work in our own homes.

Krisia Rosa chose the spice storage in her kitchen. She says,  “This is a spice storage shelf that I incorporated into our kitchen that organizes the spices in a way that makes them easy to see and keeps them in reach but away from direct heat or sunlight. I couldn’t cook without it!”

 

Dreamin’ January 24, 2013

Filed under: Architecture,Uncategorized — pohlrosapohl @ 2:16 pm
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“All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray. I’ve been for a walk on a winters day. I’d be safe and warm if I was in LA. California dreamin’ on such a winters day.” –The Mamas and The Papas

tree houseThe older I get the more reclusive and thoughtful I become in winter time. The skies are gray and my beautiful front garden greets me daily with its brown lifelessness. We’re hoping for a high of 25 degrees in Kentucky today. The only comforts are a warm fire, hot coffee and dreams of spring time.

These dreams sometimes take us beyond the probable to the that dream state of “possible”. It’s the time when we close our eyes and think of things not as they might be, but as they could be. We enjoyed this little fantasy reel of tree houses whose designs must’ve come to mind when someone was thinking of the possibilities on a cold, gray winter’s day.

What spring projects are you dreaming of this winter?