March 5, 2008

Local Architects Give Green Building Tips

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McMansions may be eye-pleasing at first glance, but to an architect they can become design and sustainability eyesores. In an effort to steer green-conscious Ithaca citizens away from such quick-fix housing solutions for building comfortable homes, local architects Ernie Bayles and Megan Nedzinski gave a talk last night at the First Unitarian Church on architectural design with a focus on sustainability to an audience of about 30. This seminar was the fourth in the Green Building Seminar Series created by the Ithaca Green Building Alliance.
Bayles began the seminar with an overview of the idea of sustainability, admitting that “green” houses often fall under the stereotype of a grass and brick cottage that looks environmentally conscious but is hardly comfortable. Instead, he defined the actual concept of sustainable design as a “functional, durable, healthy for occupants, energy-efficient and designed to work with exterior environment and location to optimize comfort and utility.”
Most importantly, he emphasized the importance of remodeling current residential homes in carefully laid out plans.
“Building quality smaller spaces can enrich life more than larger ones. One of the most sustainable things we can do is to build less,” he said.
However, he did admit that “design takes a lot of work, which needs to be done by a team of people: the designer, owner and builder. Somebody has to come to the table with some ideas of sustainable goals.”
[img_assist|nid=28544|title=Green bliss|desc=Local architect Ernie Bayles presents a lecture on green building for Ithaca residents yesterday. The talk was the fourth in a series presented by the Ithaca Green Building Alliance at the First Unitarian Church.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]As a way of helping the audience — made up mostly of Tompkins County residents, designers and homeowners — Bayles and Nedzinski walked them through the long process of sustainable designing, with a concentration on remodeling existing homes.
The two architects followed the “process of design” outlined by the American Institute of Architects, expanding on the eight steps of the development of green housing listed by the AIA. They began with the homeowners’ program, a compilation of the owners’ hopes for their construction projects, and ended with a post-occupancy evaluation, a step for homeowners and architects to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the actual construction.
Nedzinki, in particular, provided a thorough case study of a house the two had recently worked on. The owners wanted to remodel the house so that it would be handicap-accessible and structurally improved, as it was originally built around 1870. Her extensive details of every step of their thought process, from site analysis to their actual design plans, showed how exhaustive sustainable design can be.
Nevertheless, in the end, both reiterated that it was worth all the effort.
“We really feel that the longevity of the project has a lot to do with its sustainability,” Nedzinski said.
Bayles also brought up the point that green housing may not be the cheapest solution, even in the long term.
“You have to think about it lot more, if nothing else. There’s just a lot more effort put into the whole process. A green building is a better quality building; it costs more, and I don’t know if that’s ever going to change,” he said.
The audience was generally very excited with the presentation, although Bayles acknowledged that he and Nedzinski may have been “preaching to the choir.”
For example, Steve Paisley, an audience member, thought the presentation was “very good,” but disclosed that he was an IGBA member and had given a presentation four weeks ago.
However, others were not wholly satisfied with the presentation. David Auble ’60 wants to build apartments and single-family houses, and came hoping to learn about design specifics, like energy-efficient heating systems, low-maintenance siding and cost differences.
“I’m hoping to be as green as possible and still be aesthetically pleasing. It’s a difficult balance to find. I felt [the presentation] was a little too much theory, and not enough detail and specifics,” he said.
By the end of the talk, he realized that he will have to continue doing research on sustainable design himself, in addition to the research he has already done.
“There’s no easy way to do research,” he said, echoing the two architects’ advice about the hard work that sustainable designing can entail.