The Impact of Energy Consumption on the Environment

What is the Biggest Culprit? Concerns about the impact of energy consumption on the environment, especially global climate change, have finally penetrated public consciousness to the point where significant political action is beginning to happen.

USEnergy3 copyAny number of events can be cited as triggering this step change in consciousness. Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth, numerous cover articles by our leading weekly magazines, a continuous stream of newspaper articles, scientific reports from prestigious committees, appeals to the President by business leaders, politicians, and scientists, etc., have outlined the risks and challenges to the planet in compelling detail. As Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger commented when he introduced Executive Order S305 on greenhouse gas reduction, “I say the debate is over. We know the science. We see the threat. And we know the time for action is now.”

The question is: where should we focus our efforts? We can begin by asking: where are the biggest culprits and what are the most immediate cost effective strategies, but the challenge is more fundamental than the idea of mitigation or conservation, as important as they are. Ultimately, we must rethink and convert our 200-year-old fossil fuel economy to renewable sources. An even more fundamental question is: can we do it in time to avoid catastrophic change and human hardship?

The recent announcement at UC Berkeley of a $500 million grant by oil giant British Petroleum (BP) to develop biofuels is not only by far the largest alliance between industry and the academies, but also the kind of investment and vision necessary to bring renewable energy swiftly to market. BP’s grant will fund hundreds of researchers in 25 teams, 18 at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and 7 at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, while BP will assign up to 50 of its own researchers to join the teams. The potential of this landmark interdisciplinary effort is planetary. LBNL Director Steve Chu has estimated that if the acreage which American farmers are currently subsidized not to cultivate were planted in “switch grass” and if ethanol from this cellulose source could be brought to market at the efficiencies demonstrated in the lab, it could provide as much as 100% of the country’s transportation fuel needs. UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau has characterized the effort as “our generation’s moon shot.” Charles Zukoski, Vice Chancellor of Research at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, described it as launching “a new age for agriculture, altering the energy economy of the planet.” As essential and groundbreaking as this effort is, how big an impact will it have on the problem?

World Energy Supply Bar GraphAn examination of our energy consumption by broad sectors reveals the following approximate breakdown: 27% transportation, 30% industrial, 22% commercial, 21% residential. Almost all the energy consumed (90%) comes from fossil fuels, with the remainder from nuclear and renewables, including wind and hydro. When each sector is examined in greater detail, some surprising facts are revealed. Within the transportation sector, only 16% is consumed by cars and trucks, the remaining 7% goes to trains and planes. Thus, if all the transportation fuel for cars and trucks (as big a number at that is) were converted to biofuels, it would still only address 16% of the problem. So what is the biggest culprit?

As Ed Mazria has pointed out in his “2030 Challenge” to design and construction professionals, if you add up the residential and commercial sectors with the portion of the industrial sector consumed by buildings, it totals 48% of the total energy consumption! If you look at electric consumption by itself, 75% goes to operate buildings. With the projected increase in electrical demand planned to be met by coal-fired power plants, the impact of buildings is even more important. Quite simply, buildings are both the biggest problem and opportunity.

Mazria also points out that over the next 30+ years, we will build approximately half again as much new square footage as already exists and we will renovate about 50% of the existing square footage. This means that in the year 2035, three quarters of the built environment in the U.S. will be either new or renovated. This gives design and construction professionals the largest responsibility for making a real difference, but as Schwarzenegger has said “the time for action is now.”

We know from over 30 years of research and development since the last oil crisis in the early 1970s, that we can reduce the energy consumption in buildings by 50-70% through intelligent conservation and the application of passive solar heating, natural ventilation and careful daylighting. The question becomes how do we get the rest of the way to zero carbon buildings — i.e., buildings which generate all of their energy needs from renewables. This is the “moon shot” challenge to design and construction professionals.

With the loads for heating, cooling and lighting reduced dramatically by the strategies above, the remaining challenge is the electric loads for building equipment, appliances and especially the so-called “plug loads” for computers, televisions, kitchen and office equipment. Conservation in lighting and appliances, especially refrigerators, are the reason why electric consumption in California has been flat for the last 20 years in spite of population growth. This phenomenon has been called the “Art Rosenfeld Effect” because he pioneered the “energy star” rating system for all appliances, especially refrigerators. Natural competition in the market place, as a result, reduced energy consumption by 50%. His colleagues at LBNL pioneered in the development of high efficiency light bulbs with a similar

To achieve the goal of zero carbon buildings, the country will need the next generation in conservation technologies in all areas of electric usage, including lighting, appliances, televisions, computers, etc. Fortunately, many of these technologies are in the development phases and are on the way. As demonstrated in California by the “Rosenfeld Effect”, conservation will remain the single most cost effective first step. Nonetheless, buildings will still require electric power; even with reduced loads, and the challenge is can it be met by renewables?

Through our research at the college on the application of photovoltaics and wind technologies to buildings, we have discovered recent commercially available breakthroughs which are extremely promising. By integrating photovoltaics (PV) directly into building assemblies, like roofs and curtain walls, i.e., substituting existing materials with PV materials, the cost effectiveness of PV is already competitive in some markets, especially when compared with peak power. When the next generation of efficiency achieved in the lab (20%-40%) is brought to market in 3-5 years, the integration of PV into building assemblies should become a matter of course for designers.

The story about the integration of small-scale wind machines into building design is equally promising. A new generation of vertical axis machines, double-helix spiral-like rotors, seems to have solved many of the prior problems. Quiet, non-vibrating, effective at low speeds and multi-directional, their applications on roofs and facades offers multiple design opportunities.

When both of these technologies are combined, we have discovered that they have the potential of providing more than 100% of the total electric loads, on an annual average basis, after careful conservation. Yet, the final challenge is overcoming the intermittent timing of these renewables. What do you do if there is no sun and no wind, and you are unable to capture excess energy (when available) by running the meter backwards, i.e., using the grid as storage?

The final step to zero carbon buildings, for instance providing the backup to wind and solar, comes from a surprising source — the waste streams. In our research work on sustainable neighborhoods in China, we have discovered that food wastes, the sludge from primary sewage treatment and green wastes from the landscape, urban gardening and agriculture together generate a significant energy resource in the form of biomass. New technological breakthroughs in biogas generation use a two-stage anaerobic process to convert as much as 80% of the potential energy in the biomass into biogas — methane and hydrogen. This energy source can be put to many uses, for example: providing gas for cooking, compressed gas for gas-powered vehicles, or powering gas-electric turbines for the base or back-up electric loads.

solarFor this technology to be cost effective, however, it needs a minimum flow of biomass material equal to about 8-10 tons per day, or the waste created by a mixed-use, high density neighborhood of approximately 5,000 units of housing (15,000 people). While the construction of such a neighborhood is the exception in the U.S., 10-15 of these kinds of neighborhoods are completed every day in China. We have discovered that the three renewable energy sources, wind, solar and biomass together can provide all the energy for such a neighborhood. Indeed, the neighborhood can be a significant energy exporter to the grid — especially at peak demand during summer afternoons. The challenge of realizing such an integrated and self-sustaining system of energy supply is that it requires a whole new way of doing business for the design and construction industry. The developer, architect, landscape architect, civil engineer, mechanical engineer, city departments of planning and public works, have to operate under a whole new paradigm of collaboration and integration. But the rewards are planetary; zero carbon neighborhoods could become a reality.

In the end, the goal of achieving a carbon neutral future in the building sector is at least several years off, at the building scale. It will take multiple technology breakthroughs in all areas of energy conservation and renewables before the building will be an appropriate scale for supplying all of its own energy needs. On the other hand, a carbon neutral future is already achievable at the neighborhood scale. The question is: will planning, design and construction professionals seize the opportunity?

At CED we are striving to provide the educational foundation for our students which will prepare them to seize a leadership role in this effort. UC Berkeley tops a short list of institutions with the unique combination of breadth and depth needed to develop innovative design solutions and approaches to public policy. It requires not only the collaboration of multiple faculty in our three disciplines, but also reaching across campus to civil engineering, the energy and resources group and anthropology, listed below. CED is the only school in the country where this new paradigm has a chance of being realized and is exemplified by:

  • Elizabeth Deakin and Robert Cervario’s work in transit-oriented development and the making of walkable and bikeable cities with Michael Southworth
  • Tim Duane and Randy Hester’s work to reconcile competing demands on the ecosystem on the island of Hawaii
  • Judith Stilgenbauer’s work on green infrastrutures — the multi-functional and productive features of landscape
  • Galen Cranz’s examination of the social and cultural bases of a sustainable lifestyle
  • Our building science faculty – Cris Benton, Gail Brager, Ed Arens, and Susan Ubbelohde — work on energy conservation, daylighting, lighting controls, interfloor mechanized systems, dual mode buildings and user response to environmental quality
  • Our collaboration with The Berkeley Institute of the Environment (BIE) and Energy Resources Group (ERG) faculty – Inez Fung, Dan Kammen, — on renewable energy systems, solar, wind, and biomass
  • Anthropology Ph.D. student Shannon May’s work on the post occupancy evaluation of China’s fact eco-village

The greatest challenge is developing the institutional structure and pedagogy to create an effective framework for this interdisciplinary collaboration to flourish. The impact that the built environment has on our planet’s future has never been more critical to our survival and presents us with our greatest opportunity for change.

Design Activism

“Design Activism” changes the way we see and understand our world. It is revelatory and transformative in people’s lives.
Planada Bus Stop, Central Valley, CA. (2005 view) constructed by architecture students in Arch. 201, Spring 1998. Instructors Sam Mockbee and Chris Cal ott. (bottom) Construction under the direction of Sam Mockbee, 1998. Originally, Mockbee and the students thought they would be building farm worker housing, but the community wanted a connection-a bus station. What they got is a micro-climate- a poetic diagram of their place in the region, which has garnered their continuing involvement with a new mural, a new landscape, and careful maintenance.

It has been a distinguishing hallmark of our College for six decades. To illustrate the ways in which CED has defined “design activism” would require listing the work of almost every faculty member over the last 40 years. By necessity, has limited the discussion to the work of a few, to exemplify the many ways in which design activism has evolved and changed.

Much has happened since the mid-sixties when Sim Van der Ryn and Sandy Hirshen, with associated architects, designed the “Flash Peak” camps for migrant workers and Sim’s “Integral Urban House” of the mid-1970s articulated the first concepts of sustainability and whole systems integration; when Chris Alexander, Sara Ishikawa et al changed our thinking about the architectural program as a list of spaces with the idea of “a pattern language”; or when Charles Moore, Donlyn Lyndon with Bill Turnbull and Dick Whitaker gave shape to The Sea Ranch challenging the “white” formalism of the east coast with architectural forms responsive to sun, wind and site and a flexible construction system of natural materials that weathered, blending into the setting.

For those of us who reflect on that time of protests and questioning, design activism was synonymous with community design workshops and community participation; but it has a deeper and more critical set of motivations than community service alone. While providing design services to citizens who do not have access to professional consultants and confronting issues of social equity are important motivations, the idea of identifying and critically exploring important issues left out of, or not being addressed in normative practice, is just as fundamental. Design activism is “problem seeking”; it is proactive; it chooses an issue (or set of issues) and explores it (or them) from a critical, sometimes ideological perspective. It uses design to recognize latent potential and make it visible. It explores the “absences” in everyday life and gives them a “presence.” It reveals new ways of seeing the world, and changes existing paradigms.

Some professional practices use “design activism” to first define and then become expert in a new or emerging area of practice, i.e., to create an identifying innovative “brand” for their firm. Yet professional practice also needs to serve a more publicly accepted notion of architecture and development practices. For many firms, design activism can be a high risk proposition which might not be accepted by their regular clients. On the other hand, the critical inquiry essential to design activism is at the core of the academic enterprise. It is both a responsibility and privilege that faculty examine and question the hidden assumptions of design production. Because design activism often challenges existing norms and values, it takes imagination, courage, and the power of persuasion, along with empirical and theoretical evidence to change people’s attitudes and perceptions. In some cases, it takes raising design activism to political action in order to bring about a new vision. In spite of its challenges, the history of design activism at schools of architecture, landscape architecture and planning and, especially at Berkeley, has resulted in remarkable changes to professional practice and the built environment.

S.W.E.l.l. !Scissor Wheels Elastic Lumber Lever) installation located in front of Wurster Hall designed and built by architecture graduate students in Mark Anderson's Arch. 201, Spring 2003. A dymanic frame which flexes to the weight of human passage standing in front of the tough ration al frame of Wurster Hall.
S.W.E.L.L. (Scissor Wheels Elastic Lumber
Lever) installation located in front of Wurster Hall
designed and built by architecture graduate students
in Mark Anderson’s Arch. 201, Spring 2003.
A dynamic frame which flexes to the weight of
human passage standing in front of the tough rational
frame of Wurster Hall.

At Berkeley, design activism precedes the founding of the College of Environmental Design in 1959. In fact, it was the design activism of the interdisciplinary Telesis Group which envisioned a new future for the Bay Area in a show at the SFMoMA entitled “Telesis: Space for Living” (1940) that planted the seed for a new college. The concept of creating a college which brought together the design disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture and planning (including real estate and finance) to collaborate on designing the built environment grew out of the success of Telesis’s interdisciplinary vision.

Certainly Catherine Bauer Wurster’s role in shaping American public housing policy and her subsequent harsh criticism of its early applications is a model of design activism, as is the impact of Jack Kent’s book, The General Plan on the shaping of planning practices in every municipality in California and the U.S. Tommy Church and then Garrett Eckbo, with his groundbreaking book Landscape for Living changed the idea of the everyday garden by introducing concepts of modern landscape design; and William Wurster is synonymous with the very idea of “everyday modernism,” the notion that simple modern residential design can transform the quality of people’s everyday lives.

Following Berkeley’s lead, design activism today takes many forms in schools around the country. For thirty years the University of Tennessee has developed and offered community design “storefront” services in every major city in Tennessee. Sam Mockbee received the AIA Gold Medal (posthumously) for the work of the Rural Studio at Auburn, bringing design/build services of hauntingly poetic and artistic quality to the rural poor. As a Friedman Visiting Professor, Mockbee and Berkeley students designed, got approved, and built a hauntingly beautiful bus stop for the migrant worker community of Planada in the Central Valley. “Design/Build” has been applied as an effective form of design activism at many schools, with superb examples at Yale and the University of Kansas, which won a recent NCARB Award for bridging school and practice with a stunningly built model for infill housing. In many ways, design activism has been most successful in the form of “community design charrettes” (Washington, Michigan, Maryland, and Minnesota.) Often the charrettes address important themes like “smart growth” (Maryland), “retrofitting the suburb” (Georgia Institute of Technology), or new design strategies for revitalizing older “strip” developments (ASU). All of these examples owe an intellectual debt to the original design activism of the Mayor’s Institute for City Design, in both initial conception at UVA and its regional applications at Berkeley and Minnesota, among others. In all of these examples design activism has involved proactive problem seeking, using design to visualize new ways of conceiving a problem. While design activism has grown around the country, how has this tradition, so central to CED’s identity, been transforming as older faculty mature and younger faculty reinterpret the tradition?

The lead articles in this issue of Frameworks highlight the work of LAEP Professor Walter Hood, including his collaboration with DCRP Lecturer Deborah McCoy on the Y-Plan, as well as the on-going design activism of LAEP Professor Randy Hester in Los Angeles and Taiwan, of alumnus Frederic Schwartz, in addition to an essay by Donlyn Lyndon. But new forms of design activism stretch across the faculty in all three departments, from the senior faculty to new assistant professors. In City and Regional Planning, Chair John Landis is preparing a major analysis of the potential for “infill” housing on under or undeveloped sites throughout the state. The study goes beyond a typical land use analysis; it examines the role of different building types and the design potential of each site.

"Telesis: Space for Living"
“Telesis: Space for Living”, an exhibition by the Telesis Group, SFMoMA (1940)

Professor David Dowall is developing a major initiative to examine the economic and design needs of metropolitan infrastructure for the state’s projected growth to fifty million people in 2020. The impact on the design of communities will require the development of new policies and scenarios in urban design. The goal is to make California’s investment and design trade-offs visible.

In urban design, Allan Jacobs and Elizabeth Macdonald, continue to transform our understanding (along with those of traffic engineers) regarding the multifunctional value of “Great Streets.” At the same time Chair Peter Bosselmann continues the tradition of the Environmental Simulation Laboratory (begun with Donald Appleyard) by illustrating how 10,000 new housing units could be accommodated in downtown Oakland.

With the largest number of design faculty, the Department of Architecture has the widest range of design activism. At the top ranks, Professor Stanley Saitowitz has continued to explore and define stripped-down, yet elegant modernism that delivers a richness in materials while inviting a flexibility and multiplicity of uses. His Yerba Buena Lofts is the most noted example and illustrates how this language can reference, yet not imitate, the traditional context and fabric of the city. At the mid ranks, Associate Professor Ravee Choksombatchai’s work defines and delivers a sensuality that celebrates the body’s experience of space and material, while Associate Professor Renee Chow has redefined our understanding of suburban space in her book Suburban Space: The Fabric of Dwelling (2002). Associate Professor Jill Stoner’s design/build studio has added permanent interior architecture installations at a housing development by Patrick Kennedy, injecting new life into the public spaces of the project. Finally, Associate Professor Rene Davids is bringing the issue of “architectural detailing” into the foreground of the design imagination by initiating a series of publications entitled, “AS-BUILT.” Their purpose is to increase the vocabulary of architectural expression in schools of architecture, to bring back the “art of the detail.”

A remarkable group of new faculty at the assistant professor rank are breaking new ground in the use of computer aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) to explore new design directions. Mark Anderson has focused on the “art of construction” using CAD/CAM with students to design and build “swell,” a dynamic volumetric circulation installation in front of Wurster Hall, and the most recent design build project “Monster Mudder; Tinkers’ Workshop Community Fabrication Courtyard” on the Berkeley waterfront. Lisa Iwamoto has used CAD/CAM, employing computer controlled cutting machines at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; to design/build installations at important locations in Wurster Hall, as well as a volumetric lighting installation for an opening at one of SFMoMA’s galleries. With her partner, Craig Scott, she has also captured the ephemeral processes of nature in a project entitled the “Fog House.” Anthony Burke has developed and experimented with an all-digital studio to explore dynamic spatial transformations which the computer enables beyond our normal perception and imagination. He brings the critical questioning of design activism which must always ask what purpose do these new spatial configurations serve?

While the current work at CED is a long way from the early examples of design activism, it shares the excitement of critical inquiry and discovery from the tradition out of which it springs. But today’s design activism is not only a commitment to inquiry in the academic process; it is also a commitment to implementation, thereby creating the bridge between thought and deed, and driving the design process to realization. This continues to be the privilege and responsibility of the faculty, and inspires the best from our students.