Living Future 12 - Women Reshaping the Worlld

What if every single act of design and construction made the world a better place?

This question that is answered by the Living Building Challenge (LBC) suggests an approach to sustainable design that really grabbed my attention - so much so that I decided to head to Portland Oregon to an unConference to find out more.  "Living Future 12 - Women Reshaping the World" seemed to have my name all over it!

Arriving in Portland on the evening of Tuesday 1 May, I attended the unConference Eve Party at the Cleaners, Ace Hotel. Here I was lucky to meet a number of the people highly involved in the Challenge who are all enthusiastic about what is being achieved and excited about it spreading across the world - especially to Australia!

Trying to get into the timezone, I left after a couple of hours for some well needed sleep.

On Wednesday I attended an all day workshop on the Living Building Challenge, where its inception, intention and evolution were discussed. Eden Brukman was able to bring great depth and interest to the session, reflecting her capability and experience. Many other workshops, tours and meetings meant that all delegates could find something to interest them during the day.

Wednesday evening saw the opening reception followed by the keynote presentation by Dr Vandana Shiva. A physicist, environmental activist, author and eco-feminist, among many other honours she was awarded the 2010 City of Sydney Peace Prize! Because of continuing jetlag I was not able to give her talk on the important work of empowering women in developing countries the attention it deserved….

The next day stated with a quick breakfast meeting with Greg Searle from Bioregional North America (introduced by Pooran Desai) before the morning session. This started with a "15 minutes of brilliance" presentation which was a warm up for a keynote by Jason McLennan.

Jason spoke of the strong influence the women in his life had as he grew up, and the importance of the feminine approach in redressing many of the problems the world is currently enduring. I found the very personal insights enlightening and a nice change from the usual externally focused talks that proliferate conferences.

Half hour networking breaks ensured plenty of time to catch up with people and check out the trade show.

The next session had many interesting options to chose from. I chose to go to one called "Red List to Red Flag: Sharing Materials Research Beyond Project Boundaries" as I think this is going to be the most difficult 'petal' to achieve in Australia. We heard from 2 different team members (architect, owner, developer and contractor) from 4 different projects about how they had approached the materials petal. All seemed to agree that you needed to start as early as possible in considering the materials; develop agreed roles for each team member; and communicate well throughout. They also agreed that it is as important to document the failures as the successes. It was interesting to note that while the Google client emphasized transparency and access to information as critical going forward, the information they were able to gather for all their fitouts is not able to be shared with others…!

Lunch was offsite with tokens enabling us to sample the local food carts that operate out of parking areas and offer local produce. While the rain made the experience a little less pleasant than a sunny day might have offered, it was great to get out and explore Portland while having a different food experience.

That afternoon I headed to "Steampunk'd - Some Things Old Are New Again". This session talked about the value of existing buildings - not just their embodied energy but also important lessons such as their durability; repairability; and passive survivability (natural or low tech approaches to daylighting, ventilation, water and energy). Victorian engineering - when electricity was scarce - has many important lessons to learn from. This is an area I am particularly interested in.

After a great run through of case studies of some of the better buildings from our past, we were introduced to the Mint Building in San Francisco, designed in 1874 by Alfred B Mullet. Each table in the room then engaged in a short workshop on what we might do. This forced each of us to consider appropriate design approaches before being told exactly what was done by the team who worked on the building - an interesting approach.

A late afternoon meeting of international delegates enabled those of us who had travelled far, to meet and talk about the challenges and opportunities we are facing in bringing the Living Building Challenge to each of our countries. There was a large contingent from Mexico, with a few live wires from Ireland, New Zealand and Australia among other countries.

Drinks and a "Big Bang Dinner" and celebration ensued. The winners of the Aleutian Island design competition were announced, and some additional "15 minutes of brilliance" were enjoyed. The school kids from Canada who had their requests for a more sustainable school ignored were very impressive, as were the other kids who spoke of the importance of their future and performed great music for our enjoyment.

While waiting for a taxi at 11pm at night in the rain - in front of the hotel I was staying at - made me decided to be a party pooper and not go out…

The keynote speaker the next morning was sensational. Carol Sanford, who wrote "The Responsible Business", said her role is to push people where they do not want to go. She helps people to build capability to enable them to make the changes they need to move forward. She talked about the importance of language and how it shapes ones thoughts and then actions. Her next book is going to be about regenerative systems thinking.

This was the perfect lead in for the next session by Bill Reed and John Boecker on Regenerative Design. Their approach to design is energetic and all encompassing. They see development as the act of brining out the capabilities or possibilities of something to a more advanced stage. They believe you need to utliise integrative design, and work with systems not parts. Again, language is really important in shaping our approach to issues and solutions. Key ideas I took away for our practice include:

-        We need to undertake a much more intensive site analysis to ensure we really understand the system we are working within

-        We need to work on harmonizing conflicting issues - which does not mean finding compromise

-        Look to build both capacity and capability through the work to deliver co-evolution of all involved

"The Architectonics of the Living Building Challenge" was the last session I attended. This might not have been the most interesting on offer, but as it covered the detailed issues of contracts, specifications etc, I thought would be important to attend and learn. They noted ideas such as:

-        adapting the client-architect agreement to accommodate longer and flexible completion times (need to include for 1 year of POE)

-        need to incorporate what will be required for the POE and who will be responsible

-        need to have materials requirements as part of submittals

-        consultants need to include required LBC documentation for their work

-        much better having an integrated design team from the start

-        the specification needs to be clearly set out with all requirements

-        payments during building process need to be tied to meeting goals and provision of required documentation

-        need to ensure owners know their responsibilities on occupation in achieving certification - especially important if tenants involved.

Elena Bondareva (from Australia!) then drew the event to a conclusion with a session of changing people in the middle of a large room talking about issues they found interesting, followed by her own whirlwind 360 degree look at what had been discussed. Followed by drinks off site in a supplier's showroom, I thought this was a great way to finish a really interesting unconference!

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