jfriedman July 18th, 2009
(Joan): Believe it or not, we are once again having internet connection problems. The internet connection in our apartment is broken, so we´re sitting in a public internet linkup in the main railroad station, and the guy right next to me is smoking like a chimney, so I may have to cut this short. We arrived in Copenhagen, where there are already a noticeable number of advertisements in the airport for products and services claiming to be eco-friendly, all linking thmselves to the upcoming climate summit here. There is certainly a great deal more environmental consciousness here than in Iceland. The tourist guides prominently feature organic restaurants, eco-friendly shopping, and more.
Our first meeting on arrival was with Martha Lewis, whose father Arn is an emeritus Wooster faculty member in art history. Martha is an architect and works for a firm here that specializes in environmentally sensitive architecture. We met her at her office, where she had prepared for us a detailed presentation about a huge project the firm is working on in Hamburg. We learned a tremendous amount in a very short time about the kinds of considerations that go into designing and building this sort of structure. Among other things, Martha had reservations about US LEED certification, which is granted to a building based on adherence to a checklist of criteria in construction, but which does not require any sort of assessment to see if the completed structure meets its planned specifications. The German standard is far stricter; a building receives provisional certification as environmentally friendly on the basis of its design, but then there has to be an inspection after a certain period to make sure that it is actually as energy-friendly as claimed. [Addendum 24.7.09: Amyaz Moledina from Economics just sent us a link to a press release from the US Green Building Council, saying that LEED certification will now include post-construction evaluation. Thanks, Amyaz!]
She also explained to us that the certification process involves five separate categories, of which energy efficiency is only one. The others are: type of materials used; human health and comfort; low maintenance and operation costs; and public access to the facility. A project can choose to go for certification in some or all of the categories. She also told us that in the architectural world there has been a revolution in thinking just within the last two years with regard to environmentally sensitive building. Firms and clients are taking it much more seriously, and there have been numerous advances in concepts and designs. She recommended that we see a special exhibit at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art on eco-friendly architecture; we’ll report on that in our next post.
We were exhausted after our strenuous hiking, long drive back from Skaftafells, and only three hours of sleep before getting up to catch our flight, so after our wonderful meeting with Martha we had a relaxed evening walking around Copenhagen. Melissa would like to say that while Reykjavik is a cat city, Copenhagen appears to be a dog city. Dogs are even allowed on trains. And I would like to note my particular delight at finding that the Pilsner Urquell served here is the real Czech beer, not the watered-down swill they export to the US.
It was a perfect confluence of personal and professional interests for our group to meet Martha Lewis, architect with Henning Larsen firm in Copenhagen, and daughter of professors emeritus, Arn and Beth Irwin Lewis. Martha explained that about 30-35% of total global emissions come from buildings (from heating, cooling, and lighting), which makes the design and the building of green buildings highly relevant to attaining the goal of a sustainable environment. One of her office’s contracts has been to design the new Spiegel headquarters in Hamburg, Germany. It was fascinating to hear her talk about how the client was swayed to aim for the highest certification level (on a 5-star system) they could afford.
I am interested in what makes a company like the Spiegel want to go for green when they commission a new building. Many of the ideas that were eventually realized came from the architecture firm’s proposals. In this particular case, the city of Hamburg also set certain standards or goals for the development of the entire area (Hafen City) – without imposing the particular ratings. The client is always moved by financial concerns, by peer/social pressures, and by ideological and perhaps even ethical concerns. The social pressures here are interesting: the star system rewards sustainable building and it becomes almost like a competition for prestigious institutions like this news magazine for highly educated readers to go for 5, whenever they can. And since Spiegel prides itself on a high degree of social awareness and is closely allied with Germany’s media capital of Hamburg, which is located on the Elbe river, one of Germany’s largest rivers, it makes sense that the publisher would attempt to merge social with natural spaces in a sustainable way.