In an op-ed published in Fast Company magazine's Co.Design blog, titled “Should We Save Mid-Century Modern Icons That Hurt The Environment?” partner James Timberlake outlines an ethical approach to the energy efficiency problems that plague mid-century modern architecture.
Nearly thirty million commercial buildings were constructed after World War II in the period often referred to as the golden era of building, long before our modern understanding of carbon emissions and the human impact on global warming. Buildings are responsible for at least 30% of greenhouse gases. What happens when some of those structures are beloved architectural icons, designed by architects like Mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, and I.M. Pei?
Timberlake says that creative and unconventional thinking is needed to preserve important works of mid-century architecture while bringing them to energy code compliance or better. A few solutions include rethinking curtain walls, using life-cycle inventory data sets to analyze the environmental impact of building materials, and reusing existing facades while finding additional ways to improve efficiency. "The current tools at our disposal allow us a better way forward," Timberlake writes, concluding that "the impact of historical architecture infrastructure on the energy crisis is an ethical problem that we can no longer afford to ignore."
Last week at the climate talks in Paris, world leaders committed a full day to discussing public policies and financial solutions to reduce carbon emissions within the building sector. It's widely documented that buildings are the culprit for at least 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile in the building sector, there's an ongoing discussion about what to do with inefficient buildings from past eras. Debate around historic value versus economics inevitably leads to the big question: Are these buildings worth retrofitting, or do we tear them down and start over?
Architect magazine, the official journal of the AIA, described KieranTimberlake's pioneering practices in a recent article entitled "The Life Cycle of Practice". The article, written by Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson, highlighted firms that continue to push the boundaries of the role of the architect in the modern building and design process.
Past eras have seen architects slowly phased out of much of the building process as specialized work contracted out to third parties has become the norm. In recent years, however, select firms have been bucking this trend as they seek to be more involved in everything from site input to material selection to the types of technologies integrated into a project. Dickinson praised KieranTimberlake's role in this movement by highlighting the firm's emphasis on inquisitiveness and research. At the firm, the article states, "the scope of the architect is elastic and expansive, [beginning] with questioning and researching the very way buildings are conceived, designed, constructed, and delivered, and [continuing] through to material and product development and the ongoing study of management of buildings and places."
One of the ways in which Dickinson sees KieranTimberlake's commitment to questioning manifest itself is in the development of new technologies. Calling invention "the most compelling area of expansion for architects", she references Tally®, KieranTImberlake's custom Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) tool for designers, as well as the firm's wireless sensor network. Both of these technologies grew from the architects' frustration with the limits of existing products, and have become a part of the firm's affiliate business, KT Innovations, which focuses on architecture-specific software and product development. "Inventions such as these open new and appealing business possibilities for firms," Dickinson says. "As a whole, those expanding the life cycle of architecture are exploring every aspect of the profession for possibility, while expanding into new realms."