Excerpt from chapter 5
Renewable City buildings:
guidance and learning

Buildings are the basic building blocks of cities and towns – the elementary operational unit of all human settlements, whether they accommodate families, enterprises or livestock; laboratories, airport functions or assembly lines. This chapter first examines basic tools of measuring and guiding the energy performance of buildings. Following an overview of the assessment, rating, design and planning tools, we will examine what can be learned from the world’s most advanced building practices. Only a very small fraction of all buildings are designed by architects; nevertheless, their experience does offer some general lessons for their colleagues, their clients and local governments...

Construction considerations

It is important to focus on the construction process itself, managing it in as renewable a manner as possible, ultimately working towards the use of materials and construction procedures that are produced and powered in non-fossil ways. Also, when introducing renewable equipment and building infrastructure, local conventions need to be take into account; these contribute to timing, the quality of workmanship and success of the final result. Communications with the construction team need to be exceptionally good, in technical briefings, training and construction and support documentation. This may require the writing of manuals; photos of equipment assembly and construction practices, and an accessible collection of material suppliers’ product literature is crucial. Sufficient time should be allotted to explain the overall environmental sustainability and fuel independence goals to the construction team. Because renewable energy and efficiency design strategies are still new to many contractors, sessions to educate both management and workers are important. Broader project goals can be usefully presented as being on an equal footing with conventional construction considerations of safety, quality, budget and schedule.

Close monitoring of the construction phases is crucial in renewable-energy integrated and high-efficiency projects. It is essential for clients, through their management representatives, leading architects and engineers, to stay intimately informed throughout the construction process, monitor compliance with specification, and be consulted in the approval of substitutions. It is also important to keep in mind that renewable-energy technologies and building efficiency methods bring into sharp relief the risks and costs of design-build and other streamlined methods of delivering large complexes. The structuring of development projects into distinct stages proves to be more fruitful generally: it establishes feedback loops, permits change and encourages innovation by creating cycles of reflective experience, inquiry and learning. Construction trades and skills are positively influenced, too. The new focus on renewable energy and efficiency also highlights the fundamental importance of resuscitating and nurturing time-honored construction methods. Yet at the same time it also requires an effort to normalize new skills by educating and training all relevant trades in new skills, and to avoid the formation of an artificially specialized caste of renewable energy installers. Any use of specialists to install new systems should be seen as an interim measure – if its very newness is the only distinguishing feature of the new technology. For example, all electrical subcontractors and trades people should be able to install photovoltaic systems; this will help manage costs and avoid construction delays due to skills shortages.

London's Swiss Re Tower by Foster and Partners, also known as the Gherkin Tower (built 2001-2004) is billed as one of the most advanced sustainable office towers in the world. Lloyds Building by Richard Rogers Partnership (1979-1984) in the foreground, is a monument to high-tech symbolism of another era. Both London buildings are home to members of the global insurance industry, long alarmed about the urban impacts of climate change.

photo © Ashley Cooper