Conference Focuses on Sustainable Building Strategies

The newly renovated 1926 Julia Ideson Library served as the setting for the 2013 Gulf Coast Green Symposium and Expo, which was themed “Create[d] History: Learning from the Past to Guide the Future." The library, designed by Cram & Ferguson and restored by Gensler, was an appropriate and inspiring location —the project is pursuing LEED Silver, or possibly Gold, certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. 

The conference program included keynote presentations at the beginning and end of the day, with educational sessions in between. The sessions, which took place in memorable spaces such as the Reading and Meldrum Rooms, were divided into four tracks (residential, site/urban planning, materials and systems, and technology) and presented green building examples from Houston and abroad.

The day started with Barbara Campagna FAIA, who also spoke at TxA Annual Convention last fall, discussing the importance of reusing the existing building stock and the ability to "green" what is already here. Campagna's experience as the chief architect of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Sustainability Program has guided the achievement of enviable LEED ratings for some of the country's most treasured buildings. The key to greening a historic structure lies in focusing on the building’s operating energy in its existing climate (humidity control) while also reactivating original features.

Ellen Dunham-Jones, AIA, discussed her ideas for "retrofitting suburbia," which are directly applicable to Houston, one of the capitals of suburban sprawl, and have already been implemented at City Centre and Market Square. Dunham-Jones shared that by 2025, demographers predict that 75% of households will have no children and will demand a more urban lifestyle. She stressed the importance of food as a destination and demonstrated the ability of cities to transform underused parking lots into desirable greenspaces.

To conclude the day, Annie Leonard, creator of the “The Story of Stuff Project,” encouraged people to a) stop trashing the planet b) stop trashing each other, and most importantly c) start having fun. Her background in worldwide waste and production processes led her to create the YouTube sensation “The Story of Stuff” video in 2007, which eventually led to the project, started in 2008. She described how people can reduce their consumption and trash while also feeling happy about it, as measured by the Happy Planet Index. Leonard believes that citizen activism in local and national politics can also increase happiness and promote change.

Gulf Coast Green 2013 was a successful event, bringing together a mix of often-discordant groups — preservationists and those focused on sustainability — for the common goal of reusing the existing built environment.