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Why Architecture Needs to Take Advantage of Natural Resources

Environmentally conscious vernacular architecture is making a comeback, says Autodesk’s John F. Kennedy–and there are hundreds of millions of existing buildings on the planet that need to become energy- and resource-efficient.

vernacular green

Sitting in the Offices of the Chief Architect of the General Services Administration, a nearly 100-year-old building a few blocks from the White House, I mused over the building’s features. Natural light poured in through the tall windows under high ceilings and embedded in masonry walls. Seeing that the windows were operable, I tried to open one. To my surprise, it lifted right up. The occupants of this space actually open these windows to let in the breezes. Wow, pretty cool. (No pun intended.) This building was designed to use the outdoor environment to help light, heat, cool, and ventilate it. As the fossil fuel era continues to wane, we’re seeing a rapid return to this type of environmentally conscious vernacular architecture.

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This is one of the reasons why it’s an exciting time to be in the building design industry. The many unemployed architects, engineers, and contractors may disagree, but others would not. Those tend to be people who not only have work, but who are making new and existing buildings as energy- and resource- efficient as possible by utilizing the outdoor environment and newer, more efficient technologies.

The job market for people versed in sustainable building analyses–designing, renovating, or retrofitting a building to be energy- and resource-efficient–is about to pop. The biggest reason is that energy efficiency is one of the best investments a building owner can make. Investing money to make a building–new or existing–energy efficient will generally provide ROIs above 10%. This is real–there are numerous success stories documenting such savings.

There are hundreds of millions of existing buildings on the planet that need to become energy- and resource-efficient, so there’s plenty of work–funded by stimulus money. For those unemployed in the building design industry, it’s a great learning opportunity. It’s also a smart way to get hands-on experience while figuring out which designs are working and which ones aren’t. And remember, there are tens of millions of people around the world migrating to cities annually. That translates into significant new construction, and it all needs to be designed to take advantage of the outdoor environment so it can be as energy efficient as possible.

Making a new or existing building as energy efficient as possible by taking advantage of its outdoor environment is one of the sure ways to ensure its value will grow well into this century. Further, several programs are being put in place that are creating lots of jobs in the retrofit market throughout the world. These government programs are job creating programs, but energy efficient retrofits are at their core and building owners would be wise to start taking advantage of them for retrofitting their buildings.


john kennedy at autodesk

John F. Kennedy, is the Senior Manager of Sustainable Analysis Products at Autodesk, Inc., an AIA Allied member, and a licensed mechanical engineer, with over fifteen years of experience developing and expanding the market for building energy analysis solutions. Mr. Kennedy is the lead creator of the open Green Building XML (gbXML) schema and the Autodesk Green Building Studio Web service. John was the President and CTO of Green Building Studio, Inc. prior to its acquisition by Autodesk.

John has degrees in mechanical engineering with an emphasis on resource sustainability and received top honors from San Francisco State University. Mr. Kennedy presented his resource sustainability thesis to the Clinton administration’s Interagency Material and Energy Flow Workgroup in 1997.

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