Britain's Guy Battle, director of the multi-disciplinary Battle McCarthy Consulting Engineers, has become one of the leading environmental building engineers in the world. And this Wednesday, he'll be in Portland to deliver the latest talk in the Cascadia Green Building Council's Transformational Lecture Series.
How did you become interested in green building?
There’s not nearly enough. In this country [USA] it’s amazing to me that so few architects are able to speak to engineers and vise-versa. Half the problem is the architects don’t invite engineers to the table early enough. And if they do, the engineers feel somehow restricted, unable to take up the conversation. I think that’s due again to the education of engineers. They’re not taught to be creative.
How does this compare to Europe?
There’s a big difference. There’s a wealth of European engineers who are amazingly creative, and at the moment taking over the States. You’ve got Buro Happold, you’ve got Whitby Bird, you’ve got Arup, you’ve got Tim MacFarlane, you’ve got ourselves. These are environmental structural engineers who know how to be creative with their designs.
Sustainable design means a greater level of integration. As an architect you have to conduct more people into the process: the engineer, the acoustician, the landscape architect. That’s why at our practice we have structural engineers, M/E/P engineers, and landscape architects, because we believe we have to produce an integrated package that will support the architects.
And then there have also been studies linking green buildings, or specifically daylit buildings, to improved human performance.
How far along do you think we are to taking green building mainstream?
If you look at the bulk of building in the States, 75% or 80% is people who are ignoring the issues. But I think there is a trickle-down effect. Obviously, though, the most basic means of change is the code. The bottom line is that if you don’t obey the code, the building is illegal, so it’s always the barest minimum. That has to be the starting point. And then you have things like incentives, which organizations like BetterBricks are a part of. It helps architects and engineers to do analysis work. And then you’ve got the straightforward incentives to do with photovoltaics or wind turbines or whatever it might be. So I think carrots alone will not make changes. You need sticks and carrots.
Yes, I passionately believe that actually. Coming here to Portland, you’ve got some architects doing amazing stuff, and engineers supporting them. I really believe that once you guys create a bit of momentum, there will be no holding back, because ultimately green building is driven by money. Once the US realizes that, it will be developing the best products and processes. And that’s why our firm is working here in this country. I’ve seen a massive sea change in attitude just in the last twelve months. It really is very exciting.
In your lecture here, you talked about a Battle McCarthy project, the Peckham Library in England, and how its architects, Alsop and Stormer, believe green building need not operate according to any particular stylistic principles. Do you agree?
There is a big debate about whether green buildings should look green, or whether they should just look like a piece of great architecture. And I think both are valid, but one thing that’s definitely true is that a green building does not have to wear its credentials on its sleeve. Alsop’s work is all about following a green agenda but very much interpreting it in a very artistic fashion. I think that’s actually very important.
Relatedly, it seems unfortunate that even though we live in an age of celebrity architects, few of them seem to have incorporated green principles into their design. There is a bit of a disconnect. I might go so far as to say there’s a new movement in architecture that’s environmentally driven, but it’s found outside the celebrity environment, although [Norman] Foster is doing some interesting stuff. If you go back to architects like Louis Kahn, Walter Gropius and even Le Corbusier, however, before air conditioning was invented much of their work took an environmental form. They were really interested in climate.
What aspect of your career gets you the most excited about getting up and going to work every day?