Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Regulation of Energy

What do you think about LEED?

LEED began as a voluntary system used to assess energy conservation through accumulation of points. It has become a mandate of political correctness in corporate practice, and it promises to become a requirement of licensure. Thereafter it could become a model for the first energy conservation building code, involving a massive expansion of the already massive regulatory bureaucracy governing the building industry.

Even if this future does not befall us, LEED is already beginning to have the effect of other building codes. Architects used to be experts in fire safety; now they are experts in the application of building codes. They often have no idea what a code means or why it was invented. (Even Building Inspectors and other code officials often do not know why a code was invented, since the code does not contain its own history and justification.) Architects only know that they must comply, so the question of the relationship between the code and fire safety is irrelevant. The same effect of regulation can be seen in the government-run high schools, which now predominately teach to standardized tests. Instead of conveying real knowledge to students in a way that prepares them for life, they convey statistically probable test information in a way that prepares them for the SAT.

Architects, currently compelled by social pressure and in the future compelled by the government, learn the rules and regulations of LEED to become certified, rather than the principles of energy efficiency. In this case too, compliance with a regulatory bureaucracy replaces real understanding. This is the pattern of government bureaucracy: it poses as the protector of some aspect of life, be it education, fire safety or energy conservation, and then promptly displaces this aspect of life, pushing regulatory rules into the foreground of our minds, and pushing life to the periphery. Wisdom in the nature of childhood learning, combustibility, and energy consumption is replaced by wisdom in compliance to an ever-expanding tapestry of rules. This gradual substitution of government for life is the inevitable result of regulatory bureaucracy, since a mind cannot be regulated. Government cannot force a person to understand. Government cannot force a person to master the principles of energy conservation, only to conform to a point system, and these are far from equivalent. Because LEED plays a growing role in this process of dumbing-down our profession, I do not support it. Or put another way, I do not support LEED because I believe architects need to understand the principles of energy efficiency.


  1. I think there are a lot of designers and individuals interested in "green" design that would say LEED is not a perfect system. LEED buildings don't perform nearly as well as they should, architects and owners alike manipulate the system so they can purchase a platinum building rather than actually care about using less energy.

    That said, I don't think it can be denied that LEED has had a positive impact on the overall market. Although it is an imperfect rating system, it has generated cleaner products, healthier buildings and an interest/awareness of ecologically minded design. Sure, a client might just purchase more efficient equipment and plumbing fixtures because it gets them more LEED points, but if it saves energy... does it really matter? LEED may be imperfect, but producing a more efficient building simply for points is better than doing nothing at all.

    I think there is also a segement of designers who have moved beyond LEED and into actual ecological design (a kin to experimental design?). As it is more and more apparent that LEED has flaws, people have looked to push the limits even further, into net-zero and "regenerative" design. Would they have done so without the stepping stone of LEED? Maybe, maybe not.

    Finally, although LEED maybe have caused specialization in the field architecture, creating a market for consultants of "green practice" and allowing architects to design a ecologically minded building by simply following a check list, people who are truely passionate about ecological design will see beyond this and strive to raise the expectation of "green" design anyway. If one is truely concerned about the underlying tenants of ecological design and our impact upon the earth as humans, then LEED is just a starting point... not the ending point of their study. Are you a passionate professional or just practicing? My only concern is that the majority is too happy to use the LEED "credential" as a marketing tool, and not conduct the personal journey to push ecological design further.

  2. Schneider, you mentioned that "if one is truly concerned about the underlying tenants of ecological design, [...], then LEED is just a starting point.
    So, then if we are truly passionate about our ecological design, and do everything possible to make it environmentally sound, wouldn't it then be a functional building that works well?

    If you are you are passionate professional and not just preaching environmental jargon, you would have no room for meaningful design.... other than its efficiency, in a scientific nature.

  3. What is the nature of human impact? This question takes a theoretical step away from the LEED debate in order to put it into larger context.

    In the 'green' view man should minimize impact on nature. This stance implies a high value on nature and a low value on man. At other times in our history there was an optimism that man's interaction with nature would lead to progress.

    Most debates tend to present two sides excluding other possibilities as solutions. Codifying LEED would serve to eliminate even the second option. Is it possible to create a professional framework that allows for multiple individual goals without being wasteful?


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