When sustainability isn’t built to last

Using outdoor recreation as a jumping-off point, Warren Meyer compares construction that genuinely conserves inputs over the long term with the sorts of fussy, maintenance-intensive designs that tend to win architectural sustainability awards, “which generally means they save money on one input at the expense of increasing many others. … I briefly operated a campground that had a rainwater recovery system on the bathrooms, which required about 5 hours of labor each week to keep clean and running to save about a dollar of water costs.”


  • That’s what you get when you let architects and enviro nuts do things, instead of engineers and those who actually have to operate what’s built. Par for the course…..

  • Grass on a roof is the perfect example of well intentions with bad results. The moist soil on the roof provides almost no insulation, and the cooling it provides comes from evaporation. You can get the same effect by just spraying water on the roof, and you don’t have to worry about mowing the roof or inevitable leaks.

  • Another example: the demolition of Stanford’s Terman Engineering Center in 2011-12, just 34 years after its construction. Terman utilized “many leading-edge sustainability features” — including ” timber structural members sourced locally.” (All quotes come from Stanford press releases.) Among the reasons given for the demolition: “advanced deterioration of the exposed structural laminated wood beams.”

    But not to worry, according to Stanford; “99.6 percent of the demolished building . . . has been diverted from landfill through either recycling or reuse.”

  • Meyer’s suspicion that the faulty structures he has had to deal with were designed to win awards is an example of how the proliferation of awards in an institution gradually dissipates its objective performance. Today’s newspapers win as many Pulitzer Prizes as ever. Meanwhile, half of newspaper jobs have disappeared and journalism’s credibility is the lowest Gallup has ever measured. Today, the movie industry gives itself more Academy Awards than ever and there is on the average an awards ceremony of some kind every three days in Hollywood. Meanwhile, the movies have become mostly sequels, remakes, and computer generated images. Meyer is in all probability correct that the defective buildings he had to work on were designed to win sustainability awards instead of being actually sustainable, since the pursuit of awards has been the downfall of other industries.

  • Jack:
    To paraphrase an Iowahawk tweet: “The value to society of any profession is inversely proportional to the number of awards they bestow on themeselves.”