A Santa Fe architect calls for carbon-neutral
buildings in the next quarter century
In January Edward Mazria, AIA, launched "Architecture
where he explains the link between buildings and global warming
and calls for all buildings to be carbon-neutral by the year
2030. Mazria earned a bachelor's of architecture from the
Pratt Institute in 1963, then spent two years as an architect
in the Peace Corps in Arequipa, Peru, later returning to New
York to work for Edward Larabee Barnes before joining the
faculty of the University of New Mexico (UNM) in 1973. His
book, The Passive Solar Energy Handbook, is considered a primary
text on the subject, and he travels throughout the world to
lecture about buildings, energy efficiency, and climate change.
He talked with Record
shortly before launching his new Web site about the urgency
of his proposal, and how he's working with the design community
to achieve it.
Photography: Courtesy Edward
ARCHITECTURAL RECORD: Your
research has determined that buildings are responsible for
half of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. How did you
come up with that figure?
MAZRIA: I developed a
way to look at buildings as a sector of the economy, the way
the industrial and transportation sectors are tracked. And
I defined the building sector to consist of what we, as architects,
control. When we design a building-its orientation, massing,
fenestration-we set in motion the energy consumption pattern
over the life of the structure. We also control what materials
buildings are made from. So, in my calculations, I included
the energy use of buildings as well as the embodied energy
of construction materials.
AR: How did you handle
plug loads in your calculations, things like the electricity
used by computers and printers and other home and office equipment?
MAZRIA: We calculated
that as part of the building's energy use. However, it's important
to realize that plug load is relatively low compared to other
systems in a building that consume energy, such as lighting
and HVAC systems.
AR: So then how did you
determine that designers have under 25 years to figure out
how to make carbon-neutral buildings?
MAZRIA: This is based
on climate research done by the European Union. Their scientists
have determined that the maximum amount of global warming
the planet can tolerate is two degrees Celsius. If we continue
on our current path, we'll achieve that rise by about 2050,
and we'd reach a rise of three degrees Celsius by 2070. With
a temperature rise that high, the consequences are catastrophic-the
polar ice caps would melt, warmer ocean temperatures would
result in severe weather patterns, and we could lose 25 percent
of the species on the planet. To avert the two degrees centigrade
rise by 2050, scientists say we need to reduce total worldwide
carbon emissions by the year 2050 by 40 to 60 percent below
1990 levels, which was the benchmark set by the United Nations.
For buildings, this means we must rely less and less on fossil
fuels for energy. When you compare the building industry to
the industrial and transportation sectors, you realize that
only in the building industry do we have the chance to reverse
the pattern of global warming. The industrial sector gets
marginally more efficient every year. And the transportation
sector is changing rapidly because there's simply no option-oil
is getting more scarce and more expensive. It's up to us,
as members of the design and construction community, to contribute
our knowledge and skills toward making buildings as carbon-neutral
as possible. If we don't get a handle on that, we're going
to not be in very good shape in the near future.
So, when you back-calculate how much energy buildings consume,
combined with the temperatures predicted by these scientific
models, you come up with a very rapid timeframe: reducing
fossil fuel consumption of buildings by 50 percent by the
year 2010, and 10 percent more every five years until we achieve
carbon-neutral buildings by 2030. As architects we can achieve
this by designing more energy-efficient buildings and also
specify materials that have low embodied energy and are made
with clean energy sources.
AR: These are very ambitious
goals. Are they achievable using current technologies and
MAZRIA: Absolutely. You
can reach the 50 percent reduction right away by making siting,
fenestration, and orientation of buildings work with the local
environment, so that buildings take advantage of passive heating
and cooling and natural lighting. That's just smart design.
Let me give you an example in the housing sector. Approximately
15 percent of all energy in houses is used for domestic hot
water. Yet we've had solar hot water heating in this country
for 30 years now. It's not a new technology. The payback on
that sort of system is three to five years. So using solar
hot water heating would reduce residential consumption in
many areas of the country by about 15 percent overnight-that's
a no-brainer. Another example for the commercial sector: In
the early 1980s the Department of Energy did a demonstration
project at the Mount Airy Library in North Carolina. They
wanted to see what kind of reductions you could get simply
through design. The project was built and then monitored for
several years. That project achieved an 80 percent drop in
energy consumption thanks to natural lighting, passive heating
and cooling concepts, and simple conservation strategies.
There were no special energy systems or technologies or materials
involved. These were all just design solutions.
AR: That's great, but North
Carolina is a fairly temperate climate. And as far as houses
are concerned, isn't it true that the same two houses can
have very different consumption patterns depending on what
the owner does?
MAZRIA: Well, it's true
that if someone wants to leave his thermostat on 85 degrees
all winter, he'll use more energy. But maybe that person has
the heat up high because the house is not well insulated or
sealed properly, or it doesn't get enough natural light for
passive heating. There are also foolproof strategies that
require little or no user interface, especially for commercial
and institutional buildings-if you bring in enough natural
light, for instance, most people will opt not to turn on lights
AR: How do you expect the
goals you've outlined to affect the initial cost of buildings?
MAZRIA: Each project
is unique, of course. It's hard to generalize about costs.
Some designers are better than others and will figure out
how to do things more cost-effectively at first. Some regions
and climates are more challenging than others in terms of
the systems needed. The point I'm trying to make by establishing
Architecture 2030, and showcasing all this research and data,
is that there's no alternative to the changes I've proposed.
The science on these issues has become indisputable-and once
people understand that they quickly come to realize that additional
costs, if any, are of secondary importance.
Clearly, things are not moving as fast as we'd like politically
in terms of getting agreement on these issues. I'll give you
a recent example that shows you how far apart things are right
now. At the recent meetings last fall about climate change
in Montreal, the U.S., China, India, and Brazil failed to
get on board with mandatory reductions of greenhouse gases.
Simultaneously, on the west coast, in San Francisco, James
Hanson, the head of NASA's climate program, gave a lecture
to 10,000 climate scientists at the annual meeting of the
American Geophysical Union. Hanson said, at best, we have
10 years to make major reductions of greenhouse gas emissions
to avoid runaway, irreversible global warming. And we can't
even get the largest polluting countries to even sign on to
any reductions at this point! So, individual industries and
groups must act together. For architects, it's up to us to
work with the AIA, government institutions, and other trade
institutions to change the built environment and its energy
use. And at some point we hope that the global politics catch
AR: Last summer you gave
a talk to a small committee assembled by the AIA to hammer
out the Institute's policy on sustainability-the same lecture
you've been giving around the world about buildings and climate
change. What sort of feedback do you receive on that speech,
MAZRIA: The feedback
has been unbelievable. When I tell people that a huge study
published in Nature magazine stated that up to 25 percent
of the species on the planet will die off by 2050 if global
warming happens-and the temperature increases they used in
their models were even less drastic than what's predicted
to happen-this hits home. How do you assign a value to that
loss? You simply can't. It's too enormous. When you say to
people that global warming endangers the existence of all
the very special places on earth, the places we prize as a
society-New England for its fall foliage, Costa Rica for its
diversity of species-they take notice, because these places
mean something to them. People have a very emotional response
when the information is framed in that way. And they're receptive
to hearing what might be done to reverse these patterns we're
In the architecture and building community, I've never gotten
the attitude that anything I'm proposing is unrealistic or
impossible. It's more like, great, when can we start? I gave
the talk in Edmonton a couple of years ago at the annual meeting
of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. It got a standing
ovation. A lot of the AIA leadership were there as well as
leaders from the National Council of Architectural Registration
Boards (NCARB) and others, and that got the ball rolling in
terms of talking to architects in the U.S. I was recently
asked to give the keynote address at the New York State AIA
Convention for the second year in a row. [Manufacturer] Polysteel
just asked me to do a talk at their annual meeting of all
their distributors. My wife just had me give a talk to her
women's group and I'll soon be lecturing to another local
community in Santa Fe. Educating the general public on all
these issues is very important, because as consumers they
have enormous power to make choices about their homes and
even their workplaces that will affect how companies view
AR: Apparently your talk
worked, because the AIA endorsed your point of view with a
major policy statement about green building released in December.
But there were few specifics about how changes would or should
be implemented. What steps need to be taken next to achieve
these energy-reduction goals?
MAZRIA: Clearly we've
got to take action on several fronts. For starters, we've
called for a mandatory one-year studio program in every school
of architecture to teach the principles of carbon-neutral
design. NCARB passed a resolution supporting these goals,
and now they have to look at licensing, continuing education
requirements, and professional education criteria for how
students are taught. And we're calling on the National Architectural
Accrediting Board (NAAB) and the Association of Collegiate
Schools of Architecture (ACSA) to get involved as well.
Then we need to start with the federal government mandating
energy and fossil fuel reductions for buildings through the
RFP process. And we'll work with the states to do that as
well. We've been working with Governor Richardson in New Mexico
on this very issue and we hear that an executive order will
be issued soon.
Then we'll start working with the cities. The U.S. Mayor's
Climate Protection Agreement states that they want to do something
regarding buildings, so we're going to take this proposal
to them and get their endorsement. Then we can approach the
counties and the school boards. Once you've handled all those
public owners, which represents such a huge chunk of construction
in the U.S., we'll go after the building codes, because through
that and regulation, that should get developers to start doing
the right things. We should have a performance-based energy
code for buildings, like what Europe has started to do. All
European nations now are having to come up with performance-based
codes by 2007 to meet their agreements on the Kyoto Protocol.
Next, of course, we've got to go after the international
community and the U.N.: China, India. I'm going to China myself
in a few months to give my talk. The IPCC needs to establish
a building sector climate change committee, and they need
to sponsor a global climate change conference just for the
building sector, where they set greenhouse gas reduction targets
for the global building sector and standards for architecture
and planning schools. In most schools of architecture there's
very little is being taught about green design. In Brazil,
which has nearly as many architecture students as the U.S.,
there's one course at the University of Sao Paulo, taught
by an engineer. In Italy, there's one class at an architecture/engineering
school at the University of Turino.
And we really need this new IPCC committee to establish building-based
performance energy standards based on those that are currently
in their infancy in Europe. So this is a huge effort, yes,
but critical to the future of the planet.
AR: Regulations and changes
in education are clearly needed and helpful. But what if private
owners and developers ask for buildings that fly in the face
of green design?
MAZRIA: Owners may weigh
in on issues like materials and fixtures, but by and large,
in terms of the design itself-how the building is shaped,
where the fenestrations are-that's really left up to the architect.
Most commercial and institutional owners don't get that involved
in those types of things. And that's where the major opportunity
to cut consumption is, in terms of building operations. I've
never heard a client tell me, don't save me 50 percent on
my energy bills, especially now when those bills are doubling.
And you can also make a difference for these buildings by
purchasing clean power.
AR: Among today's architects,
who do you think is getting it right in terms of designing
MAZRIA: There are many,
and their numbers are growing. You have Norman Foster who's
great on the large-scale stuff, like London City Hall and
30 St. Mary Axe. I hear from people in England that his buildings
aren't quite hitting their energy targets, but at least he's
trying, you know? You have Glen Murcutt, who's doing great
stuff in Australia. You have Busby up in Vancouver, which
just became part of Perkins + Will. They do excellent work.
You have Will Bruder here in the Southwest. Buzz Yudell of
Moore Ruble Yudell was on a panel with me a couple of years
ago and I'm impressed by what he and his firm are trying to
do. Thom Mayne and Morphosis just finished a building in San
Francisco that speaks to these issues. So I think there's
movement, although perhaps the movement has been driven by
the fact that it's suddenly fashionable to do green design.
Like a feather in your cap, a reason for clients wanting this
sort of building to come to you because you have expertise
and experience. But there are worse things than that, I suppose.
AR: I take it you're pleased
with the statement the AIA made in December.
MAZRIA: Extremely! In
the 1980s, when we were doing all this natural energy stuff
in New Mexico, most people looked at it and thought it was
pretty far out and funky. Then as soon as Los Alamos National
Laboratory got involved and backed up our findings, it legitimized
our work. The AIA's policy statement provides the weight of
the entire architecture profession behind this issue. They've
set in motion a process that will transform the architecture
and building community as radically and as dramatically as
the Industrial Revolution did. In all my readings of architecture
and architectural history, it's the first time I know of that
architects have been given the opportunity to lead the world
in solving the most significant global problem in our history.
It's a huge task. But there's no alternative. It would change
the profession for the better. And it puts architecture at
the top of the list of the most important professions in the