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Focus - Designing responsibly with green in mind

image Robyn Popa, AIA, LEED AP, Partner, Pfluger Architects, San Antonio, TX

SAN ANTONIO - Robyn Popa, AIA, LEED AP,is a Partner at Pfluger Architects’ San Antonio office. Her experience includes master planning, facility assessment, programming, design, production and construction administration. She is currently President of the Association for Learning Environments’ South Texas chapter.



What is the history of green building in the US?
    Green building has been around since humankind first built and inhabited shelters. The early shelters used local materials, were sited/positioned to maximize the natural environment (shading, prevailing winds, etc.) and reused resources wherever possible. In that sense, “green building” is nothing new.
    What is new is addressing the negative impact that construction has had on the environment. The invention of building systems, such as indoor heating, cooling and plumbing, has allowed us to build wherever and however we wanted. As a result, now we have to refocus on responsible design and construction to build smarter, conserve resources and consider lifecycle impacts on the environment.
How has the “going green” trend affected the construction industry?
    “Going green” has prompted the entire construction industry to be more conscious of their trade and the resultant impact the built environment has on resources. There is more scrutiny on material and product selection to source renewable, regional resources that won’t negatively impact the building occupants. There is more oversight and quality control — for example, more control over where waste goes, or what products are used in construction, etc. More monitoring is required in material production to control the environmental effects of the manufacturing process.
How has “green building” affected the type of work you do?
    Primarily, we are more thoughtful of and selective through all aspects of design. As architects, we feel a sense of obligation to design responsibly, even for clients or jurisdictions that don’t require any level of “green building.” We also look more critically at the act of construction—how we can minimize waste, reuse building elements, and how the systems can be efficiently and environmentally maintained, etc.
Is there federal or state legislation related to green building? Explain

    Legislation varies from state to state; however, most jurisdictions require architects and engineers to adhere to specific building or energy codes. These codes have evolved to emphasize green building for energy savings, efficient systems and enhanced performance. Most entities require that architects and engineers demonstrate that the design meets the applicable building code’s requirements by using the US Department of Energy’s COMcheck program. Building codes, COMcheck and other codified requirements don’t address all aspects of green building though. They are tools and resources that only focus on building system performance. It is the designer’s responsibility to address the project’s green building goals.
How are buildings certified as green in the US?
    Buildings can be certified “green” based upon location, how “green” they are and how vital certification is to the owner or architect.
    The most familiar certification program is the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, or LEED. This program requires thorough documentation from all parties involved in the project, including the architect, engineers, contractor, subcontractors and the owner.  This program also requires documentation to be collected during the entire course of design and construction, and even after the owner has occupied the building.
    Other location-based certifications are available through local jurisdictions such as the Austin Energy Green Building program for projects for the areas in and around Austin, Texas.
    Ultimately, any project designed to current building codes of IBC 2015 or higher has achieved some level of “green” through its building systems and envelope requirements, although there is no explicit certification for that.
     Pfluger Architects has long incorporated principles of environmentally responsible design into their projects using the latest standards established by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program to achieve the highest possible levels of health and wellness for their clients. -cmw

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