For three years now, the San Antonio chapter of the American Institute of Architects has hosted a luncheon with some of the country’s most forward-thinking leaders on the built environment.
The AIA’s third annual Sustainable Urban Development Luncheon will feature Edward Mazria, a visionary architect who closed a traditional practice in 2002 to found Architecture 2030, a movement dedicated to achieving carbon neutrality in new building design and construction by the year 2030.
The luncheon will take place Thursday, Aug. 1 in at the Jack Guenther Pavilion at the still-unopened Briscoe Western Art Museum on the River Walk, designed by Lake/Flato Architects and built by Zachry Corp, which also renovated and modernized the 1930s art deco Hertzberg Circus (the old San Antonio Public Library) building that will house the Briscoe’s permanent collection.
There are still tables of eight and individual seats available. For tickets or more information, click here or call 210-226-4979.
Mazria’s Architecture 2030, a nonprofit research and sustainability advocacy group, works to organize city planning and construction efforts into climate-change-conscious agents of efficiency. 2030 Districts have been established nationwide in Seattle, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles – but none yet in Texas.
It will be my honor to moderate a discussion with Mazria at the luncheon. We reached out ahead of Thursday’s event to get his thoughts on some of the issues of the day.
RR: Ed, we’re pretty excited about your coming visit to San Antonio. We seem to be in a very progressive moment in San Antonio’s historic trajectory as we approach our 300 birthday in a few years.
Can you tell readers unfamiliar with your work as both an architect and leading voice for addressing climate change about Architecture 2030 and how you came to found it?
Edward Mazria: The Building Sector, as a major contributor to climate change, came about during a seminar I conducted in my architecture practice. The seminar was about the relationship of energy and the built environment and, in one of the sessions, an issue that came up was climate change. One of the young architects asked, “What does climate change have to do with us?” So I said, “Let’s investigate, it’s an interesting question.”
That’s when we discovered that buildings were consuming about 50% of all the energy produced and greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted in the United States. Once we discovered the connection, Architecture 2030 was born.
Architecture 2030 is a non-partisan, non-profit research organization whose mission is to achieve a dramatic reduction in global GHG emissions and foster the development of low-carbon, sustainable and highly resilient built environments.
RR: There must have been a moment in your life, in your career, when you had a lightning-strike-on-the-road-to-Damascus kind of experience. Did you enter architecture school as a young man or begin your practice as a young architect even thinking about humanity’s carbon footprint on the planet? What changed you?
EM: I don’t think there was any one moment, but a series of unintentional events, each leading to the current path I seem to be on. From being offered an athletic scholarship as a result of a pick-up basketball game; choosing to study architecture as a default because nothing else seemed appealing; needing a job and agreeing to teach a solar energy seminar when I knew very little about the subject, and then becoming a global expert; discovering the building sector/climate connection because a question was asked in a seminar; etc., etc. I often say, “Life is like bumper cars,” each bump sends you in another direction. Makes it all kind of interesting.
What was it like closing a successful practice, changing directions and setting out on what some of your friends and colleagues must have regarded as a Don Quixote-type quest at the time. In fact, it turns out that you look more like a prophet. Can doing good for the planet also be good business, or do you find it difficult to convince others to join you on your path?
EM: Choosing not to practice and to close my office after 35 years was difficult. However, once I finally made that decision – took about a year – a whole new world opened and new challenges appeared.
Of course planning and designing sustainably costs very little and saves big money, and it’s also healthier and less environmentally destructive. It’s an easy sell.
We live in an era of limited government and anti-tax sentiment. Do elected officials and civic leaders have the political space to adopt Architecture 2030 ends and means, or do you find policy makers fearful of your proposed changes to development standards and practices?
EM: Efficiency, saving energy, and designing to use free on-site renewable resources is, for the most part, non-partisan. The federal government, many states, local governments, organizations, and most importantly, the private sector, have embraced the 2030 Challenge targets. Our local and national building energy code standards have improved substantially, and states like California are moving to zero-net-energy codes by 2020 for residential buildings, and 2030 for commercial buildings.
Is this your first visit to San Antonio? CPS Energy’s Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP), as part of the city’s SA2020 initiative, sets aggressive goals for reducing 250 megawatts of peak demand and the city’s overall energy consumption by more than 770 MW by 2020.
CPS also is the largest purchaser of wind power in Texas and has commissioned the construction of a 400 MW solar plant network. Yet we still burn a lot of coal. Our water utility, the San Antonio Water System, is recognized nationally for its water conservation practices. We don’t use all that much more water now than we did two decades ago when the population was half of what it is today. All that said, do you see things San Antonio could do that we are not doing?
EM: I’ve been to San Antonio a number of times; I have some good friends living here. Yes, there are definitely things San Antonio can do. We stress the demand side of energy and the built environment. In this area there are huge gains to be made, everything from new pedestrian-oriented development and transit planning, to building design and improving the existing building stock.
We’ve been contacted by some folks in San Antonio who are interested in the 2030 District model that is currently being implemented in Seattle, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. The 2030 District approach is so strong and unique because it brings people together under a common set of goals, namely, meeting the 2030 Challenge for Planning, issued by Architecture 2030 in 2007. These cities have committed to reducing energy and water consumption as well as GHG emissions from transportation in almost 80 million square feet of building space. We’d love to work with San Antonio to establish a 2030 District.
RR: I wonder if you would agree with the observation that it is easier to practice sustainability where you live, Santa Fe, NM, than it is here where the long, harsh summers require a lot of air conditioning and energy production?
EM: Architects are problem solvers. Each climate presents a different set of issues. First, we look to reduce energy consumption through planning and design – transit planning, proper street design and orientation, heat island mitigation, vegetative cover, and development layout; building siting, shape, orientation, and color; location, size and type of windows and glazing; site and building shading strategies; natural ventilation strategies; vegetative cooling; passive heating and cooling strategies, etc.
These are what we call the no-cost, low-cost, cost-saving design strategies, and in each climate the strategy is slightly different. Then we would look to add renewable energy systems to get to zero-net-energy when possible – water catchment and storage systems, solar hot water, photovoltaic and wind systems at both the community and site scale. For those conditions where it is not possible to reach zero-net-energy, we advocate for purchasing utility-scale renewable energy to meet the remaining loads.
RR: What can individuals do to affect change? Do you live an aesthetic life: no car, no plastic bags, no paper towels, thermostats set at 80 degrees, etc.?
EM: We advocate for sustainable planning and design to affect major change in the U.S., and we are accomplishing just that. For example, even though we plan to add over 60 billion square feet of new buildings to our building stock (a 23.3% increase) over the next two decades, and renovate as much or more, Building Sector operational energy consumption – which accounts for 75.7% of all electricity use – will be low enough to prevent the need for any new power plant capacity in the U.S. in the foreseeable future.
Additionally, in its most recent estimate, the Department of Energy forecast that American consumers will spend $4.5 trillion less on energy between 2013 and 2030 than was originally projected in 2005. If, by 2030, we embrace the most efficient building technologies available, consumer savings will top $6.6 trillion. All this has been, and will be, accomplished without sacrificing comfort.
This also puts disposable cash into the pockets of families, homeowners, renters, small businesses, and building owners. Money that, in this tight economy, will be largely spent or invested locally and will cycle through the economy several times, generating much-needed tax revenue for critical infrastructure and community services.
RR: What about the ambitious goals of Architecture 2030? Is a carbon neutral world really possible, and if so, what kind of year-to-year progress do we need to make to stay on target?
EM: We must transition to a low-carbon world. The U.S. is actually leading most nations in reducing GHG emissions, and the U.S. Building Sector is well ahead of meeting the 2030 Challenge targets established by Architecture 2030. For example, the U.S. pledged to reduce its GHG emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. Today we are running about 12% below 2005 levels.
That said, we still have a huge opportunity for improvement. The U.S. is second in per capita GHG emissions among major countries (Australia is number one), and more than double that of Germany, United Kingdom, Korea, and Japan.
RR: When you look at the behavior of states and nations, who makes your list of worst offenders and most energy efficient? Where do Texas and the U.S. fit on the graph?
EM: If we just look at western industrialized countries, Canada, the U.S., Finland, and Australia rank highest in per capita energy consumption, and Switzerland, Denmark, United Kingdom, Israel, Spain, and Italy rank lowest.
For large states with more than five million people, Texas and Indiana rank highest in per capita energy consumption and New York, California, and Florida rank lowest. What this means is that there is a great opportunity for energy efficiency reductions and consumer savings in Texas.
RR: Children today take seat belts and recycling for granted because it’s all they’ve ever known. Do you think we should make sustainability part of our public school curricula right from the very Pre-K start all the way through graduation?
RR: Speaking of sustainability: If you see nothing else in San Antonio, you should tour Pearl, a defunct brewery brought back to life as a mixed use community and culinary destination, and you should visit the San Antonio River from the Museum Reach to the Mission Reach where the four 18th century Spanish Missions are still alive as active Catholic parishes and the best examples of Spanish colonial architecture their kind in the United States.
Enjoy your visit, and thanks for being on the Rivard Report.