The newest exhibition in the Western Gallery, called “Sustainable Environments Built in the Northwest,” will be highlighting the importance of environmental building practices to sustain our environment. The exhibition, which opens on October 7, will feature projects from a wide variety of environmental architects and hopes to show what builders are doing to preserve and utilize the environment that they are building in, instead of using it simply as a plot of land to drain of its natural resources.
Speaking about the exhibition, Sarah Clark-Langager explained that its message was, “Overall, how we can sustain our environment.” They did this by contacting 37 architectural firms regarding 50 projects that have received recognition from the United States Green Building Council through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, rating system. Most firms responded with overwhelming support.
According to the United States Green Building Council’s website, the LEED ratings system is “a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings.” To receive a LEED rating, builders must submit a checklist that specifies which environmentally friendly steps the builder has taken during construction and planning. From this checklist, the building receives a rating which can lead to LEED certification, as well as two levels of award, silver and gold.
Only three projects in the exhibition haven’t been LEED certified as of September 1. All three are Whatcom County projects awaiting LEED certification, and included in them is Western’s own Wade King Recreation Center.
For the exhibition, the curators have divided the show into five principles of sustainable design. While each LEED certified project needs to utilize all of these principles, each is used in the gallery to give particular example to one.
Near the gallery’s entrance is a picture of the British Columbian wilderness near Whistler. Next to it are pictures of a fire house on a rural road in the same wilderness. If you don’t look hard, you might miss the connection. The firehouse, which features a long, sweeping roof, is built into its environment. It is not hidden, or disguised, but complementing. Its design moves naturally with the mountainous terrain around it and a garden covering its roof works to give it an organic quality as well as blend the firehouse into its surroundings. It is an actual member of its natural environment that basks in nature’s munificence.
This kind of interaction between building and site makes up an important relationship when dealing with a sustainable project. To be sustainable, a building must not take away from environmental resources, but instead must utilize them in a way that is beneficial to the environment.
A good example of this is the firehouse’s rooftop. Not only does it help make the building look like it belongs, but it works like the rest of the forest, scrubbing air and adding to the natural elements around it. This organic method is not, however, the only way to aid in finding and using a sustainable site.
Another display in the gallery features an old building in a metropolitan area. The building was old, and barely usable on the inside, but instead of tearing it down to build a newer, bigger one, an architectural firm completely remodeled it on the inside. This made use of resources that were readily available instead of taking more unused resources from the environment.
Wade King Recreation Center also made full use of its building site. In addition to its base being made from the concrete of an older building, many other aspects of the site went to benefiting the environment, going as far as root balls from removed trees, which were used to help protect salmon habitat.
Materials and Resources
An open space in the Gallery is set aside as an architect’s office made entirely of sustainable resources. There is a chair made of thick felt wool strips that sits next to a chair made of panes of corrugated cardboard. In another section, behind the chairs, sit desks made from various renewable and recyclable sources, on top of which sit various building projects and models.
Anything that isn’t a picture on the wall is a real-life example of sustainability. Clark-Langager is quick to point out that all of the items in the architect’s office are award-winning designs by Western students; they are real possibilities for the future of sustainability from our own backyard.
Also ntermingled with the individual projects are other items of environmental responsibility that really bring a feeling of viewer participation to the exhibit. For the average, environmentally conscious Western student, it will feel good to get inside and experience what is available.
For those of us who attended elementary school in the late eighties and early –to-mid nineties, water conservation was a hot issue. As the displays will show you, we have come a long way from the baggy-filled-with-water-in-the-toilet-tank technology that we grew up with.
On the gallery’s floor you will encounter a rain barrel. This is used to collect naturally cleansed rain water for personal consumption. Hearst Castle, long believed to be a pinnacle of luxury, collected and used rainwater for its inhabitants.
Of course, for those wanting something a little fancier, there are more examples inside the doors of the Gallery, including efficient plumbing fixtures, grey water systems, and sub-surface irrigation systems.
Energy and Atmosphere
One photograph hung on the gallery’s walls is not of a building at all, but seems to capture something key in the exhibition’s mission. It is a picture of two parking spaces with large, electrical outlets sticking up from a grassy, overgrown spot in front. Signs above the spaces read “Electric Car Parking.”
This symbolizes the fact that a clean building is simply not enough. Projects in this exhibit also promote a clean atmosphere and energy saving designs.
Perhaps the most obvious ways to conserve energy in this day and age begin with fuel conservation. Oil, in particular, is not only environmentally damaging, but also incredibly expensive. This leads to calling for alternative fuels and alternative energy sources.
One way that a building can encourage the use of alternative energy uses is by encouraging alternative transportation. This type of encouragement is seen in the picture of the parking spaces, but is also seen throughout many displays in the gallery, such as a bike rack which greets visitors as they enter.
Indoor Environmental Qualities
A picture of a building on the campus of Evergreen State University is built around a large, natural courtyard that is steeped in light. Many projects make use of natural light, allowing for the conservation of the energy it would take to power light bulbs when light bulbs are not needed.
This is key to the idea of sustainability, and is often the image that one gets when contemplating green buildings; after all, we spend much more time inside of buildings than on the outside.
When looking at the whole picture, however, it begins to seem obvious that the scale of the sustainable exhibit, and, indeed, the scale of building green buildings is much larger than just the inside, or even the outside, of a building. It is a big picture idea.
“When I was growing up,” Clark-Langager said, “I didn’t think of these issues.” There is, she pointed out, a shift in thinking of environmental thinking throughout the generations. She suspects that Western students and younger members of the community will be more receptive to the ideas that can be found on the exhibits walls, but, she said, “It is good for the general public.”
“Not to say that you have to agree with every one of them,” Clark-Langager said, “I certainly don’t.” What’s more important, she suggests, is that we think about “making the environment better.”
On October 7, the day that the exhibit opens, architect Johnpaul Jones will be the first speaker of this year’s Distinguished Lecture Series. See the accompanying article for more information.
Also coming to campus in time for the exhibit is a presentation from the Society of Architectural Historians, which runs from October 7 to 9. Students are invited to attend the paper sessions on Saturday morning from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. without any registration cost. The theme of this years conference is, naturally, “Sustainability: Culture, History, and Environment.”
“Sustainable Environments Built in the Northwest” runs from October 7 to November 23. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday, and is open until 8 p.m. on Wednesdays. It is also open on Saturday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. This exhibit, like all exhibits at the Western Gallery, is completely free.