Sunday, June 7, 2009

Seminar Report

Our June 5, 2009 Climate Change and Architectural Responses seminar (a co-production of AIA-SWO and the Northwest Eco-Building Guild) was a great success. Forty-eight architects, interns, engineers, and designers sat spellbound as Alder Fuller, PhD(1), founder of Euglena Academy, and John Reynolds, FAIA(2), University of Oregon professor of architecture emeritus, presented the evidence that abrupt and rapid global heating is imminent, and how such climate change will impact the design of 21st century buildings.

Dr. Fuller set the table by arguing that conventional science, as represented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has failed to recognize the interdependence of countless complex systems and the deleterious impacts of positive feedback loops. The IPCC view of climate change originates from a reductionist perspective and presumes that the rise in global temperatures is linear (Type I climate change). The reality is more likely that temperatures are rising chaotically and in a non-linear fashion (Type II climate change). If we are to believe the Type II model, we may have already crossed a critical threshold, a tipping point past which the earth's temperatures will continue to rise regardless of anything we humans do in an attempt to stop it.

Alder Fuller

Dr. Fuller identified the specific climate changes that will challenge the design of buildings in the Pacific Northwest. Within the next few decades, we can expect to see hotter, wetter weather, with less snow, more rain, extended drought, and extreme storm events. There will be disruptions to water availability and distribution, severe impacts upon commercial agriculture, and social instability as a consequence of large scale human migration. The bottom line is that our world is going to be very different by 2050, even more so by 2100.

According to Professor Reynolds, the implications for architects are clear. We must plug the leaks and tighten our belts. We must increasingly focus upon reducing the carbon footprint of our buildings. We must design our buildings so that they increasingly rely upon daylighting, natural ventilation, passive solar heating and cooling, and rainwater collection (the Cascadia Green Building Council’s Living Building Challenge and the Oregon Sustainability Center are models for future development).

John Reynolds, FAIA

The need for building adaptability in the face of accelerating climate change is paramount. Professor Reynolds favors “switch rich” design strategies wherein a building’s “physiology” may be readily tailored to the environment, even as the environment changes over time. This is a “go with the flow” type of response, as opposed to merely hunkering down. People too, will need to be more willing to adapt to the changing reality. Is a heating setpoint of 65 degrees really too low for comfort? What about a cooling setpoint of 78 degrees? We will all soon come to realize that we can no longer afford the luxury of living within artificial bubbles at odds with the environment.

* * * * * * * *

Our Climate Change and Architectural Responses seminar may be history, but that does not mean that there are not resources available locally to help expand your understanding of the coming global crisis. Dr. Fuller’s Euglena Academy offers a broad range of courses on the topics of climate change, systems sciences, geophysiology, and complexity theory. These ideas are not merely of intellectual and academic interest, but are important for communities to understand if we are to create a culture capable of adapting to the rapidly changing conditions on Earth. These changes have only just begun and will accelerate in coming years to a point that humans can hardly imagine now. For more information about Euglena’s curriculum, check out the Academy’s website at

* * * * * * * *

Big thanks to the seminar organizing committee for its superlative job producing the event. The members of the committee included:
  • Lana Sadler, AIA, chair
  • Roger Ota, Assoc. AIA
  • Bill Klaverkamp (Northwest Eco-Building Guild)
  • Rudy Berg, Assoc. AIA (Northwest Eco-Building Guild)
  • Alder Fuller (Euglena Academy)
  • John Reynolds, FAIA
Great job!

(1) Alder Fuller has studied and taught biology and mathematics at the college-level for 40 years. Born in Memphis, TN, his university degrees include a PhD in ecology & biological evolution (UNM, 1990), MS in probability theory & mathematical statistics, MS in biological systematics, and BS in biology. He taught college biology and mathematics as a full-time instructor at a community college (TVI) in Albuquerque, NM and at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. In 2001, he established an independent college-level school, Euglena Academy, in Eugene, OR, where he has developed a scientifically rigorous curriculum about systems sciences, nonlinear dynamics, non-equilibrium thermodynamics, biology and climate change. Euglena is the only institution in our region offering an integrated curriculum in these disciplines. Alder’s program has focused increasingly on global heating and climate change, which promise to be the defining issues of the 21st century, and can only be fully understood within the context of systems sciences. He has offered public lectures about climate change to over 1500, including political leaders, and is recognized as an expert on "Type II" (rapid and abrupt) climate change.

(2) John Reynolds has been interested for over 40 years in how people use energy in buildings, and how buildings shape that energy usage. He has taught both architecture design and environmental control systems at the University of Oregon since 1967. He is co-author of "Mechanical and Electrical Equipment for Buildings," 6th through 10th editions, published by John Wiley & Sons. John received the American Solar Energy Society’s Passive Pioneer Award in 1997, and was elected a Fellow in 2000. He now serves a Chair of the ASES Board. John was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 2003. He was also recognized as a Distinguished Professor by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture in 1998. He currently serves as President of the Board of the non-profit Energy Trust of Oregon, based in Portland. John received a teaching Fulbright Grant to Argentina in 1988, and a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts in 1995-96 resulted in his book "Courtyards: Aesthetic, Social, and Thermal Delight" © 2002, John Wiley and Sons.

1 comment:

Rex said...

I was mesmerized by scientific data flowing everywhere in the first half by Mr. Fuller. Wow, 'complex' is an understatement.

But for the second half, as Mr. Reynolds spoke regarding ECS concepts I recognized from school, I not only realized how 'timeless' so many of those concepts have been but also how 'ignored' they have been in todays practice of architecture. Ouch!