Professions I could love: Sustainable architecture

I’m interested by a lot of different things.  I love reading articles from Scientific American and SciAm Mind, I toy with programming (still haven’t learned Java, though!  I have a nice Game of Life that I really want to translate), I frequent nerd-oriented sites (read: American Mensa) for the puzzles they gather there, I’m subscribed to the email news for both Hubble and Spitzer, and taking photographs when I haven’t for awhile is like the first glass of water after a long bike ride in Colorado (note: the water is so good that I tend to forget I also need air).

But there are a few things that send a thrill through me, down to the marrow.   Oberlin’s Lewis Center for Environmental Studies is one of them.

I learned about it when I decided to transfer out of my first college; Oberlin was one of the schools I considered, so I noticed it in reading about the college; and when I visited campus I got to see the building in person.  It’s nearly a decade old at this point – they completed construction early in 2000 – and is still the most impressive feat of sustainable construction that I’m aware of.  Maybe that’s because it’s better for the environment than it is for pocketbooks.

The building was designed to use energy efficiently, with over a hundred environmental sensors monitoring temperature, resource use, and so forth, and automatically making adjustments – opening or closing windows, for example.  The atrium windows are triple pane glass.

The roof is covered with a 60 kW photovoltaic system that produces over half the amount of energy the building uses on average (providing an average 5 kW compared to average 7 kW use over the last year, which varies throughout the day and seasonally).  And this, in Ohio!  Not exactly your poster child for a sunshine state.

The building is also designed to recycle the water that it uses, putting it back to use throughout the building (e.g. for flushing toilets) and in the landscape.  The system even uses plants to purify the water beyond the standard forms of wastewater treatment.  The landscape itself has a developing wetland component (wetlands are like natural water filtration & purification systems).

They planted trees and crop plants (an orchard, berries, a raised vegetable garden) to further restore the landscape and produce usable food as an integrated part of the system.  When Oberlin was built in the 19th century, native wetlands were drained in order to be able to construct the buildings on the land; that’s how it was for a great deal of settlement in the Midwest.  So now they’re restoring a little bit of what was taken away over a century ago.

I’ve never had a dream to pursue any particular professional or academic field.  That’s probably why I wound up in philosophy as a student and as a (mere) receptionist for now.  But if I had chosen to spend long years studying a technical field, I would not be sorry were it architectural engineering so I could work on a project like this.

Realistically, I would more likely have become the person who programs the software for the automated monitoring and controls.  I just can’t get computers out of my head.  But I’d be ok with that, too.


One thought on “Professions I could love: Sustainable architecture

  1. I can attest to working in sustainable architecture as being very interesting and potentially fulfilling. Designing buildings itself is a great challenge, one that often is much more a task of coordination and orchestration than artistic liberties, perhaps a common misconception. But you don’t have to be an architect, or necessarily an engineer, to be involved in green buildings.

    I imagine there are many opportunities to become integrated into any number of the fields that contribute to a final design. Solar/light modeling (lots of computer work), energy modeling, water system efficiency consultants, LEED consultants, monitoring and calibration systems as you touched on, the opportunities are endless.

    If you do not find something that thrills you, which I believe everyone should be shooting for, I would say go for it. Taking the LEED exam is a good place to start. Either way, you become educated about stasis and balance and how they relate to our everyday life–something everyone should be a bit more in tune with.

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