Living Buildings for a Living Future | Jason McLennan | TEDxBendJun 22, 2021
How's everybody? My name is Jason and I'm a troublemaker other troublemakers here I just want to make sure I came to the right place and I brought my little friend the Stargazer Lily so let's talk about
buildings. and we're going to talk a little bit about flowers, so although I'm a troublemaker, I'm also an architect and an environmentalist and I've been practicing green architecture before it was cool and I had a lot of moments early in my career when people thought that green things the ones he talked about were crazy and would never take off and no one would do these green things, we tried it in the 70's and it didn't work, if you remember those of you who are older.
The 80s and 90s were not kind to the green building scene, but luckily things started to change. LEED has arrived. Sustainable
buildingsstarted to become a mainstream topic, if not a mainstream activity, then at least a topic and we started to see some green buildings. but I began to be restless. I was anxious that progress wasn't fast enough, that sustainability wasn't deep enough, that it wasn't authentic that we were minimizing harm, but we were falling behind on all the real indicators and trends, so as A Architects were taught to appreciate design and large buildings with glass and steel, but as my career progressed I began to become more frustrated with the progress of design and increasingly turned my attention to the architecture of nature, as this beautiful flower or the era of sidewalks.
You saw earlier and I started comparing these things in my mind because they were literally and figuratively routed to the place. If you think about your home or your office building, they are routed to the location, but unfortunately that's where the comparison tends to end. A flower has to get all of its energy from the sun through photosynthesis. It has to get all the water it NEEDS from the amount of precipitation it can capture in the root system beneath it. It has to adapt very specifically to a place where it can't. it contaminates the soil and the land around it or dies, in fact, when it is finished, it becomes nutrients for the next cycle and while it is alive it actively responds to temperature and humidity, it opens, closes and follows the Sun, in It is actually the habitat of many little critters, some we see and some we don't, and the best thing for me is that they are so beautiful.
Why can't this be a criterion for our buildings? Why can't this be the way we design? So I started working on this idea, a very crazy idea that became known as the Living Building Challenge about a decade ago and I started thinking about this idea of how to produce buildings that are no less bad for the environment but are good for the environment. , how are you? buildings that instead of being less likely to give us cancer cannot give us cancer, how about buildings that instead of having less impact on climate change and using a little less fossil fuels do not use any? how about buildings that instead of being a little more efficient with water get all the water they need from the sky captured in the roof bring it to the building treat it and use it again why can't we do these things that nature does?
I came across a fight in a 30 page document. and like anyone who has a 30-page document, I did the next crazy thing: I quit my job. It was the youngest partner and a very successful architecture firm. People thought he was crazy again. I left my job. I sold my house at a loss. I had a little boy who is here tonight, Aidan, and we moved to the west coast and lived in a more expensive place and I joined a nonprofit that had almost no budget and free staff, but I was going to launch the Living Building Challenge and people said Jason, you're crazy, this is too difficult, the tracks are already too difficult they thought: how are we going to make
How are we going to make buildings that will never have energy or water bills again? What was I asking? How are we? We're going to build buildings that don't contain toxic chemicals when we don't even know what's in our products and I said, I don't know, but let's figure this out, let's do this and that's how this Living Building Challenge idea started. take root and at first it was like you knew a plant with some seeds, but a lot has happened in the last decade and I am excited to tell you that I have seen signs of a revolution and an architecture that is spreading around the world.
In the world, and I'm really excited about this, we're seeing buildings that are radically more efficient and that actually get all their energy from the Sun, all their water from the sky, and they're free of toxic chemicals, which is helping local economies. and a large number of people. of other topics that we care about and that are beautiful, we just certify to the Bullet Center in Seattle how many people here have been in the Bullets, which is probably a few, so if you want to do a solar building, the last place you would think to do it.
It's in Seattle, especially in a six-story Class A office building filled with workers, computers, and all the trappings of modern office buildings, but we've been tracking the performance of this building and we actually generate more energy than we use annually. Based on the Sun, we are sure there are six floors of composting toilets in this building and no sewer connection. We produce nutrients. I like to tell people to please come shit in my building. It's always good to laugh. The building works very well. Just like a natural system, it has a central nervous system as a brain and its sensors throughout the building, outside the building, the windows open and close automatically.
The blinds fold up and down. The lights dim and go up. The cooling system. The heating system. In reality, it does not have a cooling system. it has completely natural ventilation, the heating system turns on as needed, so the building is always trying to find, like this flower, the best conditions for it to be in, so this building for us is really about rethinking everything what we worked to create with the city of Seattle. new ordinances, the
building ordinance is now happening in Seattle and to me the amazing thing about this project is the impact it is having on people.
building ordinance is now happening in Seattle and to me the amazing thing about this project is the impact it is having on people.
Think about this for a minute, we just showed that a market-rate building in the least sunny city in the lower 48 states of the United States is larger than 90% of the buildings in our country, except in places like downtown Manhattan where we don't need fossil fuels and it's cash positive and this is where it gets better, now that we have this slide it's out of To date we have about 9 million square feet of projects like the Bullet Center under construction in everyone. People told me this was not possible. Don't quit your job. Don't think big. We have a wastewater treatment plant.
This is the most beautiful wastewater treatment plant you have ever seen. It works again with photovoltaic energy. Does not use chemicals to treat water. It doesn't smell good because it is an aerobic process. Butterflies fly at the sewage treatment plant. Is beautiful. Produces nutrients. Even do yoga at the wastewater treatment plant and are encouraged to breathe deeply. It is a living building. It was a great team that did a living building project in Hawaii a few years ago and they integrated all the technologies into the curriculum, they wanted to make sure that for the students this was a new normal the students learned about passive solar energy and eco-friendly materials and healthy construction on gray water systems they learned about active solar energy and photovoltaics and wind turbines and this is part of the curriculum and it is on the Big Island of Hawaii if I am interested in checking it out and this is how it should be where our children are in facilities that are not full of carcinogens and mutagens that use nature as their operating system, like this one, there is a story if you know it, maybe.
Some of you have probably heard me talk about this, but I would like to tell this story because this young woman impressed me more than anyone else I have ever met. I came to the building one day to see it and she offered. She was about 15 years old and she offered to give me a tour and gave me a better technical tour than most architects because this was normal for her. She had been entrusted with the building. We actually walked into the building and she proceeded to show me how it works. The whole system worked, most of us here are afraid of, you know, our thermostat at home, just admit it, and this young lady not only had enough knowledge to change the entire HVAC system, but she also had the power to do it, which which was equally impressive and now about a month.
It makes the state of Hawaii decree that in the
futureevery building, every school building in the state, in the
futurewill use the Living Building Challenge as a paradigm. We are seeing Living Building Challenge projects everywhere, different climate zones, different types of buildings. in Pittsburgh amazing project the credible Phipps Conservatory project we are looking at existing buildings including historic homes and renovation projects, this is not just about building something new, this is about all the right things, we need to modernize buildings, we need to be living buildings and this is a hundred-year-old Net Zero project in Ann Arbor, we're seeing incredible new sustainability research centers come online that are living building projects Chesapeake Bay Foundation I'm just showing you a few, If we had another six hours, I could show you more We have living buildings popping up in Australia that are very exciting in Canada, where I'm originally from.
Now this is where I wish my kids could go to daycare. This is a living building project outside of Vancouver, Canada, which is amazing in Mexico. We have several emerging projects in Mexico and this is a house project and they also have their own wetland wastewater treatment plant, which you see here Bravo's ballet, it's called, It's Very Cold in New Zealand, one of the most inspiring projects that I have seen it and it has been an honor to be associated with it anyway as the new Parliament for the two peoples of today in the North Island and New Zealand and when they had the opportunity to build these new facilities to bring everyone together and deal to help restore their culture they knew they had to build a living house here in Bend we have a living building house we have begun to expand this we are beginning to work with different communities across the country and around the world on how we bring these principles to bear. expand our thinking across entire districts and produce living communities Last year we officially launched the Living Community Challenge.
We are very excited because we are now working with many communities to figure out how we do this, how we plan for the next few decades to move into living cities, that is very exciting and we can imagine a time when this image is fun. Now, this is not the case, it hasn't happened yet, but let's imagine we got rid of nuclear power and coal and we had cities that were completely powered by the sun, this is the future we need, we need it quickly, right, we need it quickly and finally we have moved on to trying to figure out how we make this change with the products, the big barrier we have is that we still don't know what is in the things we buy, the things we put in our homes, the things we put in our offices , we don't know if they will make us sick, we don't know the hidden upstream and downstream impacts, the impacts that generally occur in poor communities of the things we make on the things we buy, so this same thought process of asking the question doesn't we want to be less bad, we want to discover what good looks like and just a month ago we launched the living product challenge. and now we are working with companies around the world to start thinking about how we do this, how we create products whose manufacturing processes are completely powered by the sun, that produce no waste and that work within water balance. from their place where they support local economies that are equitable products that are not only wasted but are actually good.
It's going to be difficult, but it's what we have to do and our hope is that we can create a living future together and this is what we're really trying to do. I work for an organization called Living Future Institute and I hope that all of you will become our members now and with that I want to thank everyone here and think about next time. you are doing your project whether it is a remodeling of your house whether it is a new office building you can actually make a living building it is becoming real it is escalating the revolution is almost here thank you
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