Salvation by Design

Architects Join War on Global Warming

by Nick Welsh

Joseph-Andrulaitis.jpgFor a carpenter, so the saying goes, there are few problems that can’t be fixed with a hammer and nail. Similarly, in Santa Barbara, where architectural review is practiced as civic fetish, there are precious few problems that can’t be solved by more intelligent design. To this end, Santa Barbara’s chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has thrown itself into the battle against global warming, teaming up with the Community Environmental Council (CEC) to lead the charge on City Hall beginning early next year. Together, the two organizations hope to convince the city to decree that as of 2030 all new buildings approved within Santa Barbara city limits — both public and private — will be carbon-neutral, meaning they will emit no greenhouse gases. They also hope Santa Barbara will establish more limited goals to be achieved within a decade: namely, that all new or revamped city-owned structures must reduce their emissions by 50 percent and all new or remodeled privately owned structures must achieve a 20 percent reduction.

“This is the Holy Grail,” exclaimed City Councilmember Das Williams. “This is the most substantial change we can make.” Williams said the architects he consulted told him that the first 40 percent reduction should be relatively simple. “The next 10 percent might take some effort,” he said, adding that the discrepancy between public and private improvements was not as stark as it seems since state law already requires private homes to achieve a 30 percent reduction in such emissions.

The 2030 Campaign is spearheaded by architect Joseph Andrulaitis, who three months ago helped sponsor the forum featuring internationally known green architect Edward Mazria. Speaking at a packed Marjorie Luke Theatre, Mazria explained how homes and buildings are responsible for 48 percent of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. These are the structures most desperately in need of attention and redesign, he said. By contrast, Mazria said factories nationwide have produced basically the same quantity of greenhouse gases over the past 50 years despite a huge increase in the number of factories; this is largely because of design improvements.

Of the many public officials, architects, and builders who turned out to hear Mazria speak, one suggested that solar power should be required for all new projects covering 3,000 square feet or more. Santa Barbara City Councilmember Brian Barnwell — inspired by this and similar comments — walked out of the forum fortified with an almost religious sense of mission, prompting him to push Cottage Hospital to include as many solar units as possible on its proposed St. Francis affordable housing project. Cottage responded by threatening to withdraw its application and sell its property if the council added one more condition of approval. Barnwell and his council allies ultimately backed off. Ironically, Andrulaitis — the 2030 Campaign champion — is the business partner of Cottage’s architect, Brian Cearnal.

Andrulaitis noted that many of the improvements could be made with more thoughtful design and planning, rather than with expensive new technologies. New structures should be built to maximize passive solar energy, he said, thereby reducing the energy needed to heat and cool buildings. But Andrulaitus conceded that to achieve a genuinely carbon-neutral future, new and better insulation, solar heating panels, and more efficient cooling devices would all be required. These improvements will cost money up front, he said, but will save money over the long haul.

A videotape of the Mazria speech was replayed last week to about 45 elected officials, advisory boardmembers, and land-use experts in hopes of spreading his green building message as widely as possible. In the same vein, the Santa Barbara City Council adopted new solar power design guidelines this Tuesday in response to a new state law that removes the authority to regulate and permit the installation of most rooftop solar panels from local governments. In recent years, rooftop solar panels have been the focus of some aesthetic objection from both city officials and neighborhood activists. The new guidelines are designed to identify the best solar installation practices and reward those who follow them with plaques of recognition.

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