Wow – was that a successful conference! It has been a week and I am still processing it all. Chicago was unlike any other conference — things did not slow down in the office after it was all over, they rather accelerated. It indeed appears we have reached a tipping point.
From more than one person I heard that it seemed that the quality of work, detailing expertise and technical knowledge, size of projects and complexity of building types had reached a new high. And, compared to the early years, we were not just talking theory and intentions—but what people had done! Really impressive.
New modeling tools such as WUFI Passive (Technical keynote Hartwig Künzel, day two) are making building science interrelationships more visible and intuitively understandable. WUFI Passive is enabling CPHCs to optimize designs using “hygrothermal mass” (ever heard of that?) to optimize humidity loads and even to inform design decisions overall (as Sebastian Moreno-Vacca illustrated in his session) to create a unique architectural language! How cool is that! Science, heat fluxes and thermal dynamics begin to shape architectural form.
Dirk Lohan—Mies Vander Rohe’s grandson, and an extremely accomplished architect in his own right—hinted at this development during his welcoming remarks.
“I believe that we will begin to see as beautiful what also is energy-conscious,” said Lohan.
But maybe the most significant news is the explosive development in the multifamily affordable housing sector. It is seeing significant growth, interest and pilot developments going up in many places of the country. Thanks to the support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, we were able to make this our core topic for the conference and will be able to actively provide support to the affordable development community.
The pre-conference sessions included a daylong affordable housing Hootenanny that brought together successful affordable, multifamily housing project teams together who generously shared lessons learned and experience. Four different project teams presented during an intense full day. The morning and afternoon presentations drew full rooms of affordable housing developers who soaked up the information and had terrific, incisive questions
The same teams presented again during the core conference breakouts in a more condensed form for those who were unable to attend the hootenanny. In addition, there were more presentations on even bigger size affordable projects in progress:
- A 101 unit affordable development in New York now under construction in the Rockaways (Steve Bluestone, Bluestone Org.)
- A planned affordable retrofit of a 24 story historical brick building in Chicago (Doug Farr, Tony Holub from Farr and Assoc.), the Lawson House.
- 24 story residence hall under construction in NYC (Matt Herman, BuroHappold)
Really amazing stuff.
Of course this growth has been fueled by forward-looking programs that recognize that energy efficient homes make so much sense for affordable housing developers/owners and dwellers. Katie Swenson from the Enterprise Foundation was a breath of fresh air–dynamic, positive, and motivating opening keynote. She explained that in her and her organization’s eyes energy is a critical part in assuring not just housing for people—but healthy housing! “Health is the new green,” she said, and of course passive housing delivers here with excellent comfort, indoor air quality and the added bonus of resiliency when the power goes out. Katie announced that the Green Communities criteria had just included PHIUS+ 2015 certification as one of the highest energy point options.
Other affordable housing agencies also have made a move: the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) awarded bonus points in its last round of selecting projects for Low Income Housing Tax Credits. More recently the New York State Homes & Community Renewal (HCR) effort was mentioned in a release regarding energy efficiency measures from the White House. Those agencies now directly encourage passive building standards in their RFPs. Remarkable!
On the other coast. Seattle just amended their multifamily building code to allow additional floor area ration (FAR) for projects that meet the PHIUS+ 2015 criteria. That’s a significant incentive for developers.
Things are cookin’!
The core conference, as usual, was chock full of goodness. There were examples of how the new PHIUS+ 2015 climate specific passive building standards helped to optimize costs both here in North America (presentations by Chicago’s Tom Bassett-Dilley, Dan Whitmore, and) and internationally (Günther Gantolier from Italy). There were nuts-and-bolts presentations on wall assembly solutions (Tom Bassett-Dilley again), air and water barrier best practices (Marcus and Keith). And, the Builders Hootenanny—led by Hammer & Hand’s Sam Hagerman, focused on component challenges such as sourcing airtight FDA approved doors for commercial construction.
The U.S. DOE’s Sam Rashkin closed the conference with an unexpected message: he suggested that we needed to rename a few things to facilitate behavioral change. He posited that ZERH, LEED, PHIUS and other green building programs are essentially fossil fuel use rehab centers trying to rehabilitate an addicted nation and to show how it can be done differently. He received a standing ovation.
A few more comments on pre-conference workshops – three WUFI Passive classes drew almost 80 people and they all were super happy throughout the two days! Who would have thought! Happy people energy modeling!
Marc Rosenbaum single-handedly won first place in registering the most people for his class to connect passive principles with renewables to get to positive energy buildings (the logical next step).
Joe Lstiburek placed a close second (sorry Joe) and did a phenomenal job in covering ventilation concerns in large multifamily buildings. Rachel Wagner showed the most awesome cold climate details that I have ever seen. Galen Staengl took folks on a spin to design multifamily and commercial mechanical systems.
And Gary Klein topped it all off by reminding us that without efficient hot water systems design in multifamily, no cigar!
Thanks to all presenters and keynotes! You made this an excellent and memorable event.
I have not even mentioned the first North American Passive Building Project Awards—the entries were just beautiful projects—check out the winners here. I must mention the overall Best Project winner of 2015, as I believe this is pivotal: Orchards at Orenco. What a beautiful project, the largest fully certified PHIUS+ project in the country to date, a game-changer, underlining affordable multifamily projects on the rise.
I’m extremely happy that the Best Projects winners for young CPHC/architects was a tie, and both winners are women! Congrats to Barbara Gehrung and Tessa Smith! Go girls, you are the next generation of leaders!
One last note on a thing: Passive building people know how to party while devouring the most challenging, inspiring energy science, details, philosophies (Jevons paradox – Zack Semke’s fascinating lunch keynote) from the field.
And the architectural boat tour on Saturday to top it all off was almost surreal. When we were all out on Lake Michigan and the fireworks went off over the magnificent skyline, I thought, “that’s how we roll :).” Plus, the docent from the Chicago Architecture Foundation was a font of information, and even long-time Chicagoans learned a lot along the way. If you weren’t there, you missed the best passive building party of the year, maybe ever. (But we’ll try to top it, promise.)
Finally, for the crew that just can’t get enough, the Passive Projects Tour on Sunday was, as always, an enormous hit. Tom Bassett-Dilley and Brandon Weiss put together an array of completed and in-progress projects that generated a buzz at every stop. Thanks to Tom and Brandon and to PHA-Chicago for all your help!