Sep 30, 201301:35 PMPoint of View

The METROPOLIS Blog

Q&A: Bob Berkebile

Q&A: Bob Berkebile

Greensburg, KS Sustainable Comprehensive Master Plan

Courtesy BNIM

(page 1 of 4)

The green building movement doesn’t have one founder—it has several. One of them, without question, is Bob Berkebile, a founding principal at BNIM in Kansas City. In the 1990s Berkebile was part of the small circle of architects, designers and businesspeople who helped create the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program . He served as a delegate at the Earth Summit in Rio. Later, he took certification a step further and created (with Jason McLennan) the Living Building Challenge, a vigorous standard that exceeds LEED Platinum and serves as both aspiration and model. 

My conversation with Berkebile is the second installment in The Next Building Environment Today series, a collaboration between Metropolis magazine and Architecture 2030. Each month I interview an internationally recognized leader in the green building movement. Here Berkebile talks about the recent Bank of America controversy, his new concept of Urban Acupuncture, early efforts in China, and the Architecture 2030 Palette:

Bob Berkebile

Courtesy BNIM 

Martin C. Pedersen: You followed the controversy surrounding the Bank of America building in New York. What was your take on the New Republic article accusing the building of being an energy hog?

Bob Berkebile: I don’t know all the facts, but the early responses suggest that it’s being compared unfavorably to the Empire State, but that’s still relatively empty and Bank of America is full. Again, I don’t know the facts. What I do know is, when a system is undergoing change—and I would argue that LEED has created more change in our industry than any other single thing in my professional career—when that amount of change occurs, there are always pushbacks. Several months ago US Today did two feature articles, saying that LEED is broken. When you look at the overall energy numbers, buildings have improved significantly. But the LEED system, as it has matured, is a like a natural system. Are you familiar with the S-curve that defines the vitality over time of a natural system?

MCP: No.

BB: It’s a very interesting. Let’s take, for example, an oak forest. You have an X- and Y-axis. The vertical is vitality; the horizontal is time. You plant an acorn, and initially that s-curve is below the line, because it’s taking nutrients, taking resources from the soil, water and sun, and not producing anything. As it becomes a tree, then it starts being productive. It’s sequestering carbon, managing water, sharing nutrients with other plant systems.  As time goes forward that S turns up and becomes a steep incline as it increases its contribution and vitality. Then as the forest matures and gets to the climax phase, the line starts bending down again. So the graph looks like an S on its side. Then what happens in a natural system is something modifies it, like fire, and that regenerates the forest, and restarts the S-curve. That might be where we’re at in the green building movement.

MCP: The one thing the New Republic story underscored was the importance of post-occupancy studies, especially as they relate to energy.

BB: One of the flaws—and there are a number of them in the LEED system—is that it does not require post-occupancy evaluation. It encourages it, but it doesn’t require it. What does require post-occupancy evaluation is the Living Building Challenge. We started working on that idea, as we were also developing the LEED system in the mid-90s, because it became obvious early on that a volunteer program, developed by consensus, wouldn’t get us to the level of performance that we wanted. That’s when Jason McLennan and I started thinking about the Living Building Challenge. That does require a one-year after the fact third-party evaluation.

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