DCN ARCHIVES

September 28, 2004

Green Building Opportunities Summit

Green advocate sends message of love, peace and sustainability

BY PEG HILL

DCN CORRESPONDENT

The audience at the Green Building Opportunities Summit received a message of love, peace and sustainability from keynote speaker Stefan Behnisch.

Behnisch, a principal partner at Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner, spoke on Building in the 21st Century—Creative Thinking and Extraordinary Architecture during the conference’s first morning of a two-day session.

He reassured his listeners that good architecture and a good working environment don’t necessarily have to be more expensive. Rather, they require “more effort, more thinking, less routine, more planning . . . and sometimes even more love to the subject.”

He also espoused living at peace with one’s surroundings, which he linked to a philosophy of conservation.

“I’m not one of the advocators of sustainability architecture that says we should live back in the Middle Ages. I’m not.

“I think our civilization sort of could work if we stop wasting so much. . . . I want to live in the 21st century, but maintain it at peace with our surroundings.”

In defining sustainability, Behnisch wove together several themes. He touched on the common perception of energy efficiency: “The biggest energy resource we have is conserving energy, not using it . . . producing buildings that use less energy.” But he also acknowledged that no matter how energy efficient a building is, if it is not a place that people enjoy, then it is not sustainable.

“The way we count energy efficiency per square meter, it’s a nice way, but it only tells us half the truth. . . . We should measure it by working hours per building. That would give us a lot more truth.”

He argued that every building in some way interferes with our environment; the question that must always be asked is whether it was worth building. That answer lies with the people who will eventually use it.

“Why do we all accept to spend more waking hours, a bigger part of our life awake in a place we have no influence over, which is usually not very good, not very friendly.

“We don’t have a view to the outside, usually we have fluorescent light, and we have Rice Krispie tile ceilings. And we all accept it. At home we would never accept it.”

The essential question for sustainable architecture came down to: “How do we create an environment for other human beings to live and work in?”

The answer was in the name of one of his first projects, that he did about 10 years ago for the Dutch government. It was called Human Friendly and Energy Efficient Building.

Behnisch said the concept of sustainability didn’t exist then, but knowledge of it came to his attention in Stuttgart, Germany, from an American architect from Oregon who stopped by his office just to look around on the day he was preparing for the competition.

The architect agreed to help him with the project for a couple of days—and stayed for five years.

The building is still the benchmark for the Netherlands, he noted.

Sustainability was initially considered “anti-intellectual” and was “pushed in the hippy corner and forgotten.”

However, he argued that a building must be a place that people want to spend their working lives. He got a lot of laughter when he noted an Apple advertisement that asks: “Who has a picture of their workplace at home?”

Can you imagine, he mused, someone putting a photograph of their cubicle on their piano at home, the way many people pin up pictures of their homes and loved ones in their workspace.

His message to the architects and engineers at the conference may have had a slight feel of a ‘hippy,’ freethinking presentation (he was the only speaker that day who did not provide written points from his speech). But ultimately, he had a sharp focus. A client’s motives, whether it’s concern about the environment, the employees, or the bottom line, don’t interest him.

“I don’t really care why a client wants a sustainable building, as long as they want it and support me doing it.”

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