Energy efficient

Feb 28, 2017

As designers, it’s time to redefine the world and make it better, and that starts with preserving our resources.

As I read the various architecture, interior design, and engineering journals, I see many people, firms, principals, and designers described as “leaders.” But I don’t see much evidence of where they’re leading, how they’re leading, or what’s changed because of their leadership. In fact, I’m not sure, from what I read last year, that much has changed.

Entering 2017, I see a lot of things I’d want to change, and I’m sure you do as well. What will your role be? Here are a few:

  • Energy and the environment. Debates about global warming and climate change aside, there is much we can do from where we sit to create healthy environments and preserve natural resources. Here are some thoughts:
    • There is only a finite amount of petroleum on this planet. Our supply may last 500 years or 10,000, but it’s not infinite. I’d rather see us using dramatically less oil than we do today so there is some left for future generations, not for power but other things for which oil is an important ingredient.
    • Other natural sources of power – sun, wind, and tidal action in our oceans will go on until our sun burns itself out. By that time, I suspect we’ll be colonizing other planets. I continue to aim toward a deep reduction in oil consumption as a most appropriate path and would be happy to share with you the projects I’m working on that are moving strongly in that direction.
    • New glazing products are entering the market, such as photo-voltaic clear glass that can generate a great deal of electricity from our buildings’ vertical surfaces. We’ll be using this on a building we have on the boards currently. Combined with a photo-chromic coating (like on sunglasses that darken when exposed to direct sunlight) on the #3 surface of a dual pane window system, we’ll reduce heat gain and may obviate the need for expensive shades or draperies.
  • Water. As our planetary population continues to grow, we’re seeing a reduction in potable water in addition to water for irrigation around the globe.
    • Water is a much-talked-about diminishing resource. I’m a strong advocate for and am working on water recycling from our waste systems. This should be done on both a district level in our communities and at a municipal level as our sewer systems are expanded or rebuilt. Sadly, it’s not appropriate (yet) for a single building, so if this is a path you would like to pursue and you’re not building a whole district, nor are part of a municipality, partner with others who are building in the immediate vicinity and form your own district.
    • Hydroponic gardens in enclosed structures are an extremely water-efficient way to grow produce. I’m working on a business plan to use a portion of our recycled water from our waste water recycling system to grow things extremely efficiently in parking decks that will soon become redundant in an era of autonomous, electrically-powered vehicles. This is a win-win-win – less oil and water consumed, along with fewer or no pesticides required.
  • Building materials. We’re rapidly depleting the natural resources on this planet – copper, aluminum, iron, titanium, and many others. Are you taking leadership on the projects you’re working on to recycle – recycling construction waste and using resources that are recycled from buildings that are being dismantled? When I built my house in San Francisco in 2001, I clad it in copper shingles made entirely from recycled copper. Are you working with renewable materials, like wood? We’re coming very close to being able to erect a 20-story building using cross-laminated timber made from rapidly growing trees grown for that purpose.
  • Building design. Are we designing buildings that can adapt to future, yet undetermined needs? For years, I’ve done adaptive reuse plans for every building I’ve designed. The reuse is never exactly as I’d envisioned it, but thinking about it ahead of time steers you to design solutions that can be adapted in several ways. I’ve pulled many of these out of the drawer when the current occupant could no longer use the building for the unique purpose intended and needed to sell it. A good example is a three-story data processing and call center with 80,000-square-foot floorplates for a credit card processing company. We insisted on putting courtyards into the building so that no area of the floor was more than 40 feet away from daylight. Along came a TV station that used the courtyards for TV studios. Another was a corporate headquarters which desired 40,000-square-foot floorplates. The average tenant size in the area was between 3,000 and 5,000 square feet. We suggested putting bays along one side that would allow a series of 3,000-square-foot office suites so each have a corner window. Within a few years, the corporation was acquired by another company and moved out. Guess what? The building leased up virtually immediately.

So, what does leadership look like in our professions? Leading involves innovation and inspiration. One person or a group of people can have an idea or pursue a direction that will change the world or people’s lives for the better. The topics I’ve proposed offer many opportunities to lead.

But leading means being bold and convincing others to follow. On a project, it may be as simple as inspiring the team – your in-house team, the contractor, subcontractors, building officials, lenders, everyone – to embrace your vision and take the message to others.

Leadership is not just talking. It often involves a long and difficult path with many obstacles along the way. It takes persistence to make a difference. You must create the proof statements and evidence of success that give others the ammunition to embrace and carry forth your innovation.

We’re in dire need of leadership in so many areas beyond what I’ve outlined above. Every new direction must be based on a way of doing things that has become outmoded. Each of you can make a difference if you become a student of the world and identify something that needs to change or evolve. I encourage you to muster the energy, focus, and tenacity to bring your ideas into your profession and the market place. I challenge you to create a way of doing things that will redefine our world. We need you. If you can’t do it yourself, enlist a team and keep the fire burning under each other until you’ve gotten to a new world that you’re proud of, with new ways of doing things that others can adopt.

Ed Friedrichs, FAIA, FIIDA, is a consultant with Zweig Group and the former CEO and president of Gensler. Contact him at

This article is from issue 1187 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here to subscribe or get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

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