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As movement grows, Passive House awards lead beyond LEED

As movement grows, Passive House
awards lead beyond LEED

by ROB McMANAMY | Sep 17, 2015

"Form follows function", "Less is more", and "God is in the details" are the three most familiar, defining maxims associated with architecture's minimalist giant Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Last week, speaking at the 10th Annual North American Passive House Conference in Chicago, Mies' grandson Dirk Lohan, FAIA, an acclaimed, award-winning architect in his own right, added a new quote to the historical mix.

"When I came here from Germany in the early 1960s, I remember that I had been taught in school that we could not even draw a window without insulation, something that would reduce the loss of energy through thermal bridging," recalled Lohan, now founder and principal of Lohan Anderson. Baffled by the lack of attention then that his new U.S. counterparts paid to the subject, he expressed dismay to his grandfather, who had recently retired after 20 years as dean of the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. "Mies said to me, 'Remember, you are now in America. Energy is cheap.'"

I believe that we are entering a time where our society will come to define what is beautiful by what is energy-conscious.
— Dirk Lohan, FAIA
Lohan hopes more now 'get it'.

Lohan hopes more now 'get it'.

Of course, that mindset still persists in many pockets today, but most agree that the tide has turned across the U.S. "The next generation certainly appears to 'get it' in their concern for natural resources and conservation," added Lohan. "I believe that we are entering a time where our society will come to define what is beautiful by what is energy-conscious."

Indeed, changing hearts and minds was a dominant, recurring theme throughout the conference, echoed by multiple speakers, including host and founder Katrin Klingenberg, executive director of Chicago-based Passive House Institute US (PHIUS), as well as keynotes Katherine Swenson, VP of National Design Initiatives for Columbia, MD-based Enterprise Community Partners Inc., and Sam Rashkin, chief architect of building technologies for the U.S. Dept. of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewables.

Drawing on Lohan's roots, Klingenberg suggested to the 400-plus audience that an appropriate update of the famed Mies quote might be "Form follows energy," she said with a smile. For her part, Swenson put forth her own potential catch phrase. "Health is the new green," she said.

But it was Rashkin who offered the most radical language change that he believes is needed to shift the entrenched public mindset toward wise energy decision-making. "Let's stop saying the phrase 'fossil fuel consumers'," he said. "Let's replace it with 'Fossil Substance Addicts: Compulsive users of fossil substances, despite their harmful consequences.' Just change the words, and you change the world."

DOE chief architect Rashkin (left) presents his language slide, as highlighted by exhibitor Kolbe Windows & Doors.

DOE chief architect Rashkin (left) presents his language slide, as highlighted by exhibitor Kolbe Windows & Doors.

Another, almost unspoken theme that emerged at the conference was that the U.S. Green Building Council's multi-generational battle for LEED Certification, from silver to gold to platinum, is actually now the new minimum. The group consensus was that LEED certification was and is simply not enough to accomplish the massive and cultural change that the built environment still needs. Therefore, "passive house certification" is and should be the new goal, they say.

Said Lohan, somewhat apologetically, "I know you are looking down a little bit on LEED here, but in the past, that's all that we architects had to go on."

Klingenberg: Net zero in demand.

Klingenberg: Net zero in demand.

Not anymore. Today, noted Klingenberg, "We have 150 pre- or fully certified [passive house] projects in the U.S. and Canada, with more than that in various phases of progress in queue. They include many multifamily large scale projects, and this reflects only those project teams that choose to certify—there are uncounted other passive projects," she added. "The future is bright. Other leading green building programs are recognizing the complementary value of our collective work... to meet their zero energy and carbon goals. (And) new climate-specific passive building standards promise to be a universal foundation for energy efficiency."

Her hope since the beginning is that more architects will come to the realization that Tim McDonald, AIA, expressed, when talking about his award-winning Belfield Townhomes project in Philadelphia (see below). "Passive House made me a better architect," he told Klingenberg.

mainstream support, impact

Lest anyone dismiss the movement as being only for those tree-hugging, Birkenstock-wearing Bauhaus devotees, the event's list of sponsors and exhibitors was a reminder that 'being green' is no longer the exclusive domain of felt frogs and the political fringe. Instead, for-profits and charitable giants like Owens Corning, Mitsubishi Electric, Kolbe Windows & Doors, the MacArthur Foundaton, and USGBC were among the dozens of groups lending their proactive support to this passive movement.

Swenson eyes healthy, happy homes as Rx for all.

Swenson eyes healthy, happy homes as Rx for all.

"You are the emerging leaders of a new movement, an emerging sustainable building industry, " said Swenson, who works out of Enterprise's Boston office. The nonprofit was started by the late developer and influential urban planner James Rouse, who wanted to "create homes that are affordable, available, healthy and connected to good schools, jobs, transit and health care," according to the group's website.

"It is disturbing that 19 million Americans are housing insecure and homelessness is on the rise in Boston and across the U.S.," she added. Urging the group to support healthy and green housing initiatives, Swenson quoted a physician from Massachusetts General Hospital who not long ago said, "Housing is a vital sign, a vaccine, and a platform for wellness... If I could, I would write a prescription for a healthy home."

Lohan, himself, recounted how an unexpected encounter with a challenging owner had caught him off-guard and ultimately caused him to alter his own lifestyle.

"I rarely design houses, but some years ago, I agreed to do one for a young, wealthy client here in Chicago," he told the room. "I kept trying to design the house to be more energy-efficient and I argued with him. Finally, he stopped me and said, 'Tell you what, when you stop driving that gas-guzzling Mercedes SUV of yours, I'll do whatever you want me to do with my home."

The comment really made him pause, Lohan recalled. "He had me," the chastened architect admitted. "So not long after, I sold that car."

Island Passive House in Shaw WA captured second place in the single-family housing category. (See below)

Island Passive House in Shaw WA captured second place in the single-family housing category. (See below)



The group also named the "passive house" projects below as winners of its annual national awards. NOTE: The zero-energy advocacy movement also applies to nonresidential work. For more, click here.


1st place: Karuna House in Newberg, OR -- Holst Architecture -- Dylan Lamar (CPHC) -- Hammer & Hand (Build) -- Earth Advantage (PHIUS+ Rater)

2nd place: Island Passive House in Shaw, WA — Tessa Smith (Arch/CPHC) — Artisans Group (Build) — Evergreen Certified (PHIUS+ Rater)


1st place: View House in Seattle, WA — Cascade Built (Dev/Build) — Bradley Khouri, b9 Architecs (Arch) — Joe Giampieto, NK Architects (CPHC) — Evergreen Certified (PHIUS+ Rater)

2nd: R-951 Residences, Brooklyn, NY — Paul Castrucci (Arch/CPHC/Building Sci.) — Grayson Jordan (Arch) — Zero Energy Design (CPHC/Building Sci./Mech. Design)


1st place: Orchards at Orenco (Phase I), Hillsboro, OR — REACH CDC (Owner/Dev.) — Walsh Construction (Contractor) — Ankrom Moisan Architects — Green Hammer (CPHC)

2nd: Belfield Townhomes, Philadelphia, PA — Plumbob (Architect) — Timothy McDonald (CPHC) — Jig Inc. (Build)


1st place: Sunshine Health Facilities Resident Building, Spokane, WA — Sam Rodell (CPHC & Architect) — Jon Hawley (Build) — Peter Anderson (Rater)

2nd: Warren Woods Ecological Field Station, Three Oaks, MI — GO Logic (Architect/Contractor) — Albert Putnam (Structural Engineer), Mandrew Mc Partland (Mech. Engineer) — John O’Malia (Civil Engineer) — Svea Tullberg (CPHC) 

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