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Solution of the Month:

Green From the Get Go

Ed Mazria introduces a new platform for designing more sustainably, from a projects outset.

David Sokol
January 2014
Image © 2030 Inc / Architecture 2030
Screenshot from the 2030 Palette website.

“In a construction project, most professionals gather data. We study planning or building program, and we photograph the area and map its topography, transportation systems, buildings, and vegetation. From our research we develop a concept, whether it’s the schematic layout of a regional transportation corridor, a building form, or the organization of functions on a specific site.”

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Ed Mazria, founder of the Santa Fe–based think tank Architecture 2030, is describing his fellow architects’ most common approach to schematic planning and design. In addition to looking into a program or site, most colleagues are just plain looking—typically at images and diagrams. Whether scouting historical references or contemporary role models, this first phase of research suits visual thinkers.

Mazria anticipates that hereafter, such concept development will begin on Architecture 2030’s new web platform called the 2030 Palette. Formally introduced at Greenbuild in Philadelphia, the 2030 Palette is Architecture 2030’s latest catalyst for driving sustainable transformation in the built environment; it adds ecological responsibility into the planning and design process from the earliest search for inspiration. Currently the 2030 Palette organizes 55 sustainable design strategies called “swatches” according to scale, from region down to individual site and building. Coastal Adaptation and Urban Infill are two such swatches, which are organized under the tab Land Use; meanwhile, the Cooling tab’s swatches range from Shading Devices to Evaporative Cooling Towers and Cool Roofs. Within a swatch, a photograph of a representative project or detail occupies the most screen space. Just to its right sits a brief, highly accessible description of the photograph’s underlying sustainable concept.

Each swatch also contains instructions for implementation. Solar Shading, the most complete swatch of the 55 that premiered in November, specifies overhang extension by latitude, for instance. “We must have guiding principles that are global in scope, but which can be applied in various locations and climate zones around the world,” Mazria says of pairing conceptual and instructional text. Scrolling down the page reveals hyperlinked information pages, for a deeper understanding of swatch principles and applications.

Mazria emphasizes that each swatch gives priority to visual images. “When we conceive a plan, parti, or building form, it comes from a visual language of everyday experiences, of projects we’ve visited, of photographs or drawings we’ve seen, or things that we imagine.” By featuring images, the 2030 Palette expands a designer’s visual language to facilitate ecological literacy. Guiding principles and instructions, as well as a slideshow of projects and list of related swatches, are located adjacent to featured images to encourage further exploration of the virtual world. That could expose users to concepts and models of sustainability that are wholly new to them.

Obviously, photographs are key to the success of the 2030 Palette. So, working with a small staff, Mazria has vetted photos for their “iconic” quality. “We do not approach image selection strictly for total project performance; we look for images that very clearly illustrate the application of a swatch principle or recommendation,” he explains. “Other elements of the project may not have been as well planned or designed, but the element we illustrate works extremely well, and by just looking at it you will understand how it works.” Mazria adds that aesthetics were considered alongside a didactic quality, because “beauty engages us.”

If a project featured as a swatch image meets or exceeds the energy consumption and emissions targets of the 2030 Challenge (which Architecture 2030 released in 2006), then that project may be featured in a top-to-bottom profile on the 2030 Palette’s blog.  

Mazria isn’t wanting for blog candidates. More than 1,000 architecture firms have committed to the 2030 Challenge, not to mention multiple high-profile organizations and municipalities. Several cities are cultivating 2030 Districts, too. Given Architecture 2030’s success in changing the built environment to date, why was it necessary to launch the 2030 Palette? “Our initiatives address very specific issues and targets for buildings, neighborhoods, and products,” Mazria says. “The 2030 Palette presents the first comprehensive and clear definition of sustainability and resilience across the broad spectrum of the built environment.”

He continues: “I believe disciplines and technologies are specific in focus and application, but they also interconnect and have implications across scales. For example, how we lay out streets in a city or development has a direct impact on building form, microclimate, and the integration and design of passive energy systems and daylighting strategies. A regional or city water budget will influence how we design individual structures to capture and store rainwater, or treat and reuse black and graywater.”

Besides an inspiration generator, then, the 2030 Palette may be considered a fully integrated sustainable-design reference. It synthesizes best practices about energy, water, transportation, habitat enhancement, and more from the entire green alphabet—COTE, LEED, SEED, SITES, 2030 Challenge—under one comprehensive, image-centric language.

However it is described, the methodology seems to have resonated with designers, planners, and visual thinkers. News of the 2030 Palette reached 547,885 people via Twitter, thanks to its Greenbuild premiere alone. Although the website is now open for business, Mazria’s work is far from complete. “As users reinvent planning and design, develop new strategies and identify additional principles, and simply submit images for consideration for publishing, the palette will evolve,” he says. In the meantime, detailed information pages for the swatches Transit-Oriented Development, Stack Ventilation, and Solar Glazing will be fully fleshed out this month, and Building Facade and Shared Streets swatches should be released in February. Fifteen new swatches are now in development. 


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