Oct '11 - Oct '11
People walking down Lafayette Street are stopping and peering into the windows of the New York Center for Architecture like it's Christmastime at Barney's. There are quantities of bricks, CMU, steel members, dimension lumber and batt insulation hanging there in mid-air. Each bundle is, in its embodied energy, equivalent to one gallon of oil. It's all part of a new exhibit, “Buildings=Energy,” showing the costs, in energy, of building design. Inside the gallery there are renderings that document the development of one theoretical Manhattan office tower, and tracking how decisions made during its design, construction, engineering, and operation impact overall energy use. It's a difficult concept to illustrate, even to industry professionals, and the curators have done a good job.
But there are some other, outstanding issues. First, there's the question of how LEED and other codes fit in. There's no mention of LEED standards or ratings in any part of the exhibit. It's such an important part of the culture, why isn't it alluded to? Secondly, there's the question of whether or not this is primarily an architectural issue. A building's mechanical systems have the greatest impact on its energy use. Should engineers, then, be driving building design? And, finally, there's the question of whether building a new energy-efficient building is the best strategy. Would it save energy to not build new buildings at all, and retrofit existing structures with new interiors and mechanical systems, and to maintain all the buildings we have more assiduously? To Build or Not to Build, that's the main question, one that remains unspoken.