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Integration and Innovation

By now it's clear that building green is much more than adding a green roof, using solar panels, or identifying which materials will replace the standard ones. Creating a successful green project starts much earlier with the right mindset. Building green requires optimism and a willingness to innovate and create synergy. With this mindset, a project team can identify key ‘green integration points' that generate solutions to solve multiple problems and create a cascade of benefits. This way of thinking is second nature for many people in the green building community, and increasingly in the housing community. But having the right perspective on green is just the beginning. What follows - the design process - is how concepts get transformed into the drawings and specifications that lead to actual buildings. Not surprisingly, a conventional design process produces a conventional building. If you want an integrated building you need an integrated design process. "Integrated design process" - that sounds good, almost obvious, but what is it about business as usual that leaves green by the side of the road? For most projects, once a site has been identified, the next thing a developer does is bring in an architect to work up a site plan. This site plan then drives thousands of future decisions related to floor plans, stormwater management, mechanical and ventilation systems, foundation and framing materials, landscape design, renewable energy generation, etc. Architects, believe it or not, are not experts in most of the above issues. Nonetheless, they set the parameters for nearly all the other designers, engineers, and builders involved in the project. Now, if the architect is knowledgeable and sensitive to the breadth of green issues, there is a good chance that they will get most of the basics right. However, it is a big gamble to assume they will. There is also the very real risk that green ideas considered in early phases by the architect won't get passed along to the other team members, getting lost in the shuffle. The integrated design process ensures that these risks don't become realities. A critical element of this process is getting all the project players together as soon as possible to identify and agree on the best approach to the project, including the green building features. In this way, green is not any one person's pet issue, but instead is a concern shared by the team as a whole. It is most effective to hold a green charrette in the transition between schematic design and design development. While many of the major site planning decisions may be determined at this point, it is not too late to fix the most egregious mistakes. Decisions about heating, cooling, and ventilation systems are typically still open for discussion, as are other items that have a major impact on design and structural engineering like solar electric or hot water, green roofs, and on-site water management. The open discussion that a charrette can generate is ideal for determining how to best resolve these fundamental issues in a comprehensive way. For example, coordination between the landscape architect and civil engineer can lead to a design that is both beautiful and functional in managing rain water. Shifting mechanical systems from a unit-by-unit approach to a centralize design increases the size of the living area, reduces the number of hook ups, vents, and pieces of equipment, and facilitates simplified future maintenance. Often, there is also a significant cost savings. But this type of approach rarely emerges when drawings are sent back and forth over the internet, with each party adding their small contribution, often based on what was done in a past project.A physically dispersed design team may function economically, but synergy requires proximity. When the charrette process is working, innovative ideas emerge from unexpected places, people are excited by the spirit of creativity, and no option is considered out of the question. When the charrette is followed by targeted research, cost estimating, and informed decision making, the spirit of integration and innovation carries into the final plans and ultimately the built project - a successful green development. ———- Walker Wells, AICP LEED AP, is Director of the Green Urbanism Program at Global Green USA and the editor and co-author of Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing.