Thursday, April 8, 2010

Frank Gehry isn't a LEED-ing man

Renowned architect Frank Gehry spoke out this week about the idea of LEED certification, saying the expense of building more sustainable buildings outweighs the benefits of this deisgn method. He said many of the certifications are given for "bogus stuff" that "really don't save energy."

What's been your experience with LEED certification and green building? Have you made it a priority at your firm?


  1. Funny how when a high profile person says something like this it is newsworthy. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out LEED certification isn't building more sustainable and better designed buildings. Better design, and frankly, market forces (or what approximates them in the public arena...meaning public opinion) have driven more sustainable design. Better MEP systems get installed because they have life-cycle benefits. Visible green features get added because they generate positive opinion from users and reviewers. God knows how many bike racks get installed at buildings because there is a LEED point for them. I should have been in the bike rack business... At the end of the day, LEED is not responsible for the push in green buildings...developers will build what people will pay for, and the market is now willing to pay for Green, and energy costs have become enough of a factor to favor more efficient design. It's all good, but would have happened with or without LEED.

  2. Joshua,

    Incidentally, I wrote about the this same topic for The Zweig Letter not long ago. See excerpt below:

    LEED should be the starting point

    In theory, the Washington, DC-based U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) provides third-party verification that structures meet the highest green building and performance levels through its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

    Is it so, however?

    The USGBC admits that many LEED-certified buildings were not meeting their performance goals, following the results of a study commissioned with the Washington state-based New Buildings Institute (NSI). The study revealed that 21% of the buildings analyzed showed performance below the code baseline.

    The USGBC is aiming to correct those shortfalls with its new LEED version 3.0, which starting this fall, will track performance as a condition of certification.

    However, the question remains, is a LEED-certified building necessarily a sustainable building? Or is it a gimmick; a plaque on the wall used to obtain tax credits, attract premium clients, charge higher rents and sell at a higher cost?

    “There’s always going to be sort of criticism about the LEED system,” says Anik Jhaveri, a principal with Mancini•Duffy (New York, NY), a 120-person architecture firm. “I’m a proponent of it. It gives everybody a definition of what green means.”

    It is also an evolving concept; a starting point, he says.

    Verification, says Ashley Katz, communications manager with the USGBC, is LEED’s biggest advantage.

    “The rating system provides the industry with both consistent and credible definitions of what constitutes a green building,” she says.

    Under LEED criteria, green doesn’t necessarily equal energy-efficient. The program uses a point-system based on a broad checklist that not only includes energy conservation features, but other aspects of sustainable design, such as environmentally friendly materials (bamboo floors, salvaged construction materials), and proximity to public transportation, for example.

    So, a building can attain a LEED rating by accumulating points in non-energy-saving features and fall short on actual performance, which has become the baseline expectation for green buildings.

    This paradigm might explain why X-nth (Maitland, FL), a 285-person consulting engineering firm, places sustainable design in three categories: 1) Good design, notwithstanding certification; ultimately saves energy 2) Features that have and incentive or payback associated to them, such as LEED 3) Emerging technologies (which don’t have a payback associated with them, unless they’re subsidized. People do it because they want to make a statement).

    Over time, says President and CEO Bill Beckman, number two will become number one; good design becomes standard.

    “When you start using government programs to mandate certain things, you may be getting 60,000 to 70,000 firms going in the same direction,” Beckman says.


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