5 Reasons Why We Should be Using LEED

I realized that I had mentioned LEED in my previous post and not everyone may know what that means. LEED, or “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” is a Green Building certification program that certifies buildings that employ best-practices and strategies for sustainable construction and operation. It is essentially a set of requirements that a building must meet, and a checklist of sustainable practices that buildings can earn points towards, to achieve various levels of certification. There are four levels of certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.
LEED was one of the first programs to take on the sustainability initiative. It is a first step towards creating buildings that are either completely net-zero (meaning they contribute no pollution into the system) or even net-positive (meaning they actually contribute BACK to the system). But what astounds me is that all through my schooling the majority of my professors were highly critical of LEED. They told us it was merely a checklist and the sustainability it included was not true sustainability and it didn’t go far enough. They basically stuck their noses up at it. However, as I have been working through the study material, and working on one of our LEED projects, I am quite positive they are severely misunderstanding the point.
True enough LEED is simply a checklist for projects to gain points, but to gain those points there are many strategies AND pretty stringent requirements that a building must have incorporated all through the process of design, construction, and completion. For sure LEED could go further with the sustainability strategies it employs, but quite frankly, how can one be so critical if the alternative is to do nothing at all? At least LEED buildings are taking steps towards creating a better world, and THERE ARE additional credits you can gain for being ‘innovative’ (as my professors, and others, would have it). The point of LEED is to start getting everyone on board with what will be the future of architecture. Sustainability will become more and more important as the impacts we have on our environment are felt. And what we have to remember is LEED is not just about the environment, it is also about the health and safety of the people who occupy buildings. Of course it is not the be all, end all, and there are many things about it that could be better, but instead of dismissing it completely we should be teaching it in schools, so that the next generation of architects can improve upon it.
 So in my opinion here are 5 reasons we should be using LEED now:
1 – Sustainable Building Practices
LEED outlines 7 areas a building can improve upon to perform above the standard: Location and Transportation (how can people access public transit? how does your site and building location have an impact on the surrounding community? etc.), Sustainable Sites (talks about what you are doing on your site to renew habitat, shed water properly, avoid heat islands etc.), Water Efficiency (which has to do with plumbing, water run-off from the building etc.), Energy and Atmosphere (how good is the building envelope? what are the energy savings? how does it do its part to not pollute as much? etc.), Materials and Resources (are you using recycled materials? local materials? Reusing materials? do you have a waste management plan?), Indoor Environmental Quality (is your ventilation efficient? Are there views and daylight for occupants? etc.), and finally Innovation in Design (which allows for buildings to either show exemplary performance in one of the credits OR come up with some new way of being sustainable that is quantifiable).  I would call this pretty comprehensive – and although you do not have to achieve all the credits and we can pick and choose – not all buildings are able to afford, or can be perfect.
2 – Teamwork – LEED promotes the working together of ALL the professionals and trades working on the project. It requires coordination from the start and dedication to reaching these goals – because when going through the process of designing and constructing a building it is not easy to keep track of everything and everyone, particularly on huge buildings. Nor really is it standard practice in North America (and many other parts of the world of course), so it is often difficult to get people to move out of their comfort zone as there are definitely particular ways things are done in construction.
3 – Creates Responsibility – in this way, having everyone be aware from the beginning of their requirements to reach the LEED goals, it forces people to take more responsibility in their roles and perhaps makes them more aware of previous ways they have done things that are not very sustainable. Take the Waste Management portion of LEED for example – construction and demolition waste contributes to at least 35% of landfill waste – and if we are forced to reduce that percentage we come to realize that not everything we are throwing away should be thrown away.
4 – Promotes Awareness – this is obvious – but it is not just about promoting awareness within the field of architecture and construction, but also promoting awareness with clients and the general public. Convincing clients to have a LEED or even a more sustainable building is often difficult, as the upfront costs are much higher than traditional buildings. However, over the period of its life a sustainable building will cost less in the long run than others. Educating the general public comes in many forms, and LEED allows for credits to be gained for educational outreach programs that come directly from the building itself (i.e. real time updates on energy, water usage, etc., class tours, written material etc.).
5 – Allows for Innovation – LEED is not a static system, and neither is sustainability. Every year we come up with newer and better ways to employ sustainable practices within our architecture. Whether it be movable facades that reduce the use of energy through shading, or technologies within the building like occupancy sensors, and monitoring systems that help control electrical and mechanical systems – we are starting to see things change. These types of innovations are recognized as part of the LEED rating system.
I think that even if you do not agree with the LEED program, you should at least agree with the fact that it is trying to promote sustainability and educate architects, and other professions, on how we can begin to change the way we think about architecture. I did learn about sustainability in school, and it was fairly comprehensive BUT we should be at least giving the option for students to learn more about programs such as LEED, in order to provide a better understanding of where the profession is going. Even if professors (and hey NOT JUST IN ARCHITECTURE) used LEED as an example of how to do it better, and actually taught the material, it would be a giant step forward in the right direction for championing sustainable practices (and yes I am generalizing a bit based on my own experience – I am sure there are many architecture schools out there that do a really good job of teaching this subject). Regardless, I am determined to gain my own personal education through this program, and I am certainly glad I have started – in the short few months I have been studying, having discussions with my coworkers, and working on LEED projects, I have learned a great deal about what we can do to make things better.
Also when I looked it up – Calgary has over 300 LEED certified buildings!
Thanks for reading!
 For additional information see: The Canadian Green Building Council, The US Green Building Council (who oversee LEED certification as a whole), and an example of the checklist.

What’s Trending January 05-11

What’s Trending January 05-11

It was a fairly laid back week for me this week (at work anyways), just worked on doing some LEED documentation. It is exciting to get to participate in projects such as the one I am working on, which is going for LEED Gold as I am hugely encouraged by any project that tries to be more sustainable. Buildings are responsible for the highest amount of green house gases (yes, more than cars), so it is our responsibility as architects to help change that. I am also excited because it allows me to learn more about the process of LEED as I am looking to do my Green Associate exam, and then eventually my LEED AP.
So here is what I saw trending this week!
15 architecture projects to look forward to in 2015 (to be finished!)


I am a sucker for any sort of interesting landscape integration


This reminds me of a project we had to do in school (not to sure it works in real life?)


Interesting articles about running an architectural business


Free graphic 2015 calendar pages! To start your year off right


Here’s something fun you can make for your desk with a material a lot of Architecture Students already have!


 And look at this! A guide to current Architectural Trends! (As a whole)
trendsHave a great week!


Clean-Lined Contrast : Winter Architecture



I’m all for the traditional cozy cabins we think of when we consider a winter retreat. The fireplace, the log structure, the puffy couches, the views! Its all so quaint! But, there is something about modern or contemporary design in the wintertime that has me second guessing the traditional motif. The following ‘winter cabins’ are perfect examples of the wonderful contrast of the clean-lined geometry of modernism, against the organic and billowing nature of the winter landscape. They also just show you that despite this contrast, there is a deeper connection between the simplistic contemporary design and the stillness and crispness of a winter landscape that makes them just ‘fit-in’.

Methow Cabin – Eggleston | Farkas Architects – Winthrop, Washington (USA)


This little retreat is located in a valley that provides a number of a cross country ski and bike trails. The design is functional and minimal, and can accommodate up to 8 people (not sure if that is comfortably but) with space for communal gathering. The sloped roof sheds snow easily, but also mimics the contours of the surrounding hills, as well as opening up the views on the end to align with the end of the valley.


The interior is arranged to maximize space – with the service areas on the far side (of this image) where the road is located, and the living space towards the views with a slotted window aligned with the ski path to watch as people ski by (the few people I would think). I like that the outside appearance is understated – the colour of the wood blends in with its surroundings – and that there is warmer wood used on the inside giving the users that cozy, cabin feel.


It is the definition of a ‘sleek’ ski lodge, but still has all the important amenities you need after a cold trip on the trails.

Rolling Huts + Delta Shelter – Olson Kundig Architects – Mazama, Washington (USA)


The Delta Shelter is a 1,000 SF vacation home nestled in a floodplain valley in the Mazama region of Washington. Though it varies from other ‘cabins’ as it is constructed of metal, which is a material that contrasts highly to what architects consider ‘natural materials,’ it still maintains a connection to its surrounding landscape. The metal is the kind that patinas (like CoreTen Steel), so as the building ages the metal naturally rusts creating a beautiful texture.


This house is particularly interesting, because the metal panels or shutters can actually close when the owner is away (you crank a neat metal wheel to close the shutters). I also like two other design elements on this house – the first is the way that the building is built up on stilts – making its connection with the ground much lighter and less impactful – and the second is that the kitchen and living space is located on the top level maximizing the views of the valley.The only complaint I have about this cabin, is that there is manicured grass around the thing in the summer… it should be wild grasses that are long and tall in my opinion – really connect the building to the landscape and let it be wild!

Rolling-Hut-Mazama-WinterThese little guys were created after the Delta Shelter, and you can see a clear connection in terms of the aesthetic. However these structures utilize wood, which in a way makes sense as they are lower to the ground and therefore more connected to the direct surrounding landscape. These cabins are also very ‘sustainable’ in that they are movable (they are up on wheels!) – which was purposeful as they are intended to have a decreased impact on the site and allow for the landscape they sit upon (a former RV campground) to regenerate.

Juvet Landscape Hotel – Jensen + Skodvin Architects – Norway

700_juvet-landscape-hotel-minimal-wood-structureI really want to visit this hotel…

The design was intended to allow for guests to reconnect with nature, in these 7 small cabins each situated in a different position on the site. The views vary from the local stream and pond, to the dense forest, to forest clearing. Each of the cabins has a different layout, in order to enhance and focus those views, and each has at least one completely glass wall. Similarly to the other two the cabins are built on stilts, creating a floating effect.

700_juvet-landscape-hotel-in-norway-modern-minimalist-glass-hotel-with-viewThe interiors are also purposefully dark and spare to further highlight the views. The only parts of the cabins that are more colourful are the washrooms. Let’s just stare at this picture in awe…

Juvet-26Similarly to the first project the cladding is made of wood that closely matches the colouring of the surrounding landscape. The architecture is simultaneously contrasting through its geometry, and blending in with the colour and vertical lines of the facade. This one is going on my list of architecture to visit! (Which is getting to be a very long list ;))

Each of these projects demonstrates that you don’t have to have a large cabin to have everything you need in architecture. Views, rich materials, cozy interiors, and minimal impact on the landscape are the concepts that make these places so special.

Thanks for reading!



5 Tips for Architectural Model Making

Model making is one of the worst agonies an architecture student must go through (other than rendering, photoshopping, using AutoCAD…). Unless you are Jose and Lauren. During my schooling, Jose and Lauren were the dream team – a dating duo of architecture amazingness. I think everyone was in complete and utter awe of them, and their models. Lauren possessed the fingers of one of Santa’s elves, and Jose was well versed in all methods of construction. Anyways, I once asked just HOW they managed to do it, and within the following tips their wisdom is contained (along with a little bit of my own experiences!)

1 – Strategize. Understand what you want your model to convey – because it is highly unlikely that you are going to be able to build an exact replica of what your building would look like in real life – you don’t have the time, nor is it really useful to you. Try not to duplicate what you want to say in your printed presentation (plans, sections, renders etc.). You want to utilize your model as a tool in the presentation. Perhaps you are trying to highlight how well the building is integrated into the landscape – in that case you would spend quite a bit of time on the site and the base – and you likely would use the same material (or similar looking/color) for the building to emphasis that connection. Perhaps you use a smaller scale, so that you can show more of the site and in this case you wouldn’t focus on the detail of interiors, or small exterior details.

2 – Understand how your materials are going to affect the model, and the time it will take you to build it. Seriously consider using difficult materials like acrylic – do you really need the hassle? If it’s the best material for your project then go ahead and use it but BUDGET YOUR TIME! Sometimes the simplest materials like cardstock and cardboard, well crafted, can look great. Or even simple blocks of different coloured hardwood. Also utilizing different thicknesses, or different textures of the same material can give the model more depth. If you use materials that are the correct thickness (in scale) to walls, roof, etc. it gives the model a much better sense of accuracy, particularly when a crit-ter is picking apart your project and comparing the plans and then your model.

3 – Glue. The bane of model making existence. It pools, glops, stains, and sticks to all the wrong places if you don’t know how to use it!

Gluing fibrous materials (paper, cardstock, smaller wood types like basswood): USE THE SMALLEST AMOUNT OF GLUE POSSIBLE. Literally put the glue on a sheet of paper and use a toothpick to apply. You only want to wet the fibres. If you just wet them, then the fibres stick up and can interlock into each other and create a structure. If you use too much glue, guess what, the fibres won’t touch and your model will fall apart.

In the same way, you need to sand off the burn marks on laser cut wood to achieve the same result, as the laser has burnt the fibres down.

Once you have glue on your pieces you want to hold them firmly together for 30-40 seconds – that secures the bond.

The best glues are white glue or super glue for these smaller pieces – good brands include “Weldbond” and “Lepage gel control superglue”

For larger pieces of wood, you need to use WOOD GLUE and clamps and bricks and braces!

If you are gluing two pieces of wood together (plywood for example), or many layers of wood – spread the glue evenly along the surface and clamp the entire way around as best you can AND put bricks or something heavy on top so that the entire surface is glued together (best on a flat table as well)

If you are gluing two pieces perpendicular – utilize k clamps (those big long ones), and miter clamps for corners (or something straight and heavy). Put glue on the edge, stick to the perpendicular piece, and make sure you wipe off the excess (it is not fun to try and sand that shit off later).

If you need to glue things bent together you have to build a jig

Acrylic… ya I don’t have a lot to say about acrylic. Use the paintbrush type (liquid) if you are trying to stick edges of acrylic together AND DON’T EXPECT IT TO LOOK GOOD (again unless you are super human like Jose and Lauren). Good luck getting your acrylic to stick to your wood – gel might help. Don’t touch anywhere near the glue – if you touch it, it gets on your fingers and then everywhere on your acrylic, and it takes so long to get off your hands. Just avoid it where possible – most of the time you don’t need to use it for windows or things like that… its tedious and unnecessary. Acrylic is usually best for important features of your building, to convey the concept of transparency, or other symbolic meanings.

4 – Use the appropriate sized tools for the appropriate sized jobs. You wouldn’t use a table saw to cut a toothpick now would you? Small tools for small things, big tools for big things. Most of the time, you likely won’t have access to large tools anyways – we were lucky that our school had a whole wood workshop with table saws, ban saws, and lots of other saws for cutting plywood, and blocks of hardwood. Small tools such as Japanese style hand saws, X-acto knives, sissors, tweezers, needle-nose pliers, scalpel, can make your life easier.

5 – Measure twice; cut once – more like cut 4 or more times (especially with an Xacto knife). The first slice needs to be done with a ruler and it’s the “scoring”slice, with very little pressure, just testing the path of the cut. The second, third, fourth, etc. are slightly stronger slices, think of slicing through the layers slowly one at a time. Then eventually you’ll make the final slice through the material. This should give you a clean cut and shouldn’t tear your material. I also try to stand up when I cut to make sure that the cut is straight and to give me good control for how much pressure to put, sitting down is harder. For straight lines and accurate angles, use a T-square and set square. Its a little detail that may not be noticeable but it shows in the end, collectively. Sanding your cuts make a difference in the end as well, it cleans up messy edges.

Good things to have:

Cutting matt, miter for your Japanese hand saw, metal ruler, various types of sand paper (grit) particularly superfine (gets pencil marks off super well), scraps of paper, paint brushes, protractor, level, and a hand sander (makes life sooo easy).

Here are some examples of my own model making work (which when I look back now I am amazed I even got any of these done…)


I worked on this model (which is quite big – at least 3′ around) with my partner Jeff Villaverde in our Comprehensive Studio. It is a First Nations Centre for traditional learning (Ninaiistako was the official name). It is ALL wood.

MODEL WITH OUT ROOF  As you can see the top comes off and you can look inside the main space, which features a circular courtyard, with a floating glass staircase (do not ever EVER do something like that! It looks cool, and we did use it as a tool to explain all that but it was so time consuming).


This is a close-up of our sectional model from the same project (see below). We laser cut all of the facade pieces, sanded them down and then glued them in panels. One of the panels was removable so that we could explain how the facade worked, and hand it off to the crit-ers (tactile is goooood). This model is about hip height on a 5’4″ person.


The next two images are of a Seed Bank project that was part of a larger agricultural complex – the bank is underground – and a cave-like feeling was achieved through the sculptural ceiling (which also did double duty as the containers for all of the seeds). People could walk through and view the seeds, through changing levels of board walks surrounded by water. It was intended to be an almost spiritual experience, like that of a church, but highly grounded in well, the ground. I used a vacuform (thanks EVDS!) to create the ceiling (created a clay model, super heated thin plastic, and the machine pulls it down and uses air pressure to mold the plastic to the form).SEED BANK 2 SEED BANK 1PARTI

This last one is a Parti model (concept model) for the aforementioned First Nation’s Centre. It is stacked acrylic with holes cut in it so that when you stack them all together you end up with circulating channels, which the beads can move around in. The concept was that there are many paths we can take in our lives, and places like the building we created in our project, help to make those paths more transparent through learning (circular nature of the paths), guidance (overlapping of the paths), and tradition (the solid block of acrylic itself).


Hope this helps! Happy Model Making 😉

(Please note: All images in this post are my own, I would appreciate if they were not copied or distributed. Suggested products are not endorsed.)

Late night thoughts.

Watched Minority Report. On my drive home from my boyfriends I listened to a song I’ve never heard on ElectricArea, “We’re all We Need.”

Somehow randomly got to thinking about last Thanksgiving, where I had this really nice experience with my mom. We were the last to leave Kelowna, having cleaned up after all the company. We stopped at a roadside stop for a very late lunch. There was a nip to the air as there usually is in October. We found a picnic table by the edge of the lake, took out the thanksgiving leftovers. Ate turkey sandwiches with Brie, on cranberry sourdough bread. Ate pumpkin pie tarts with whipped cream for dessert. Laughed and just enjoyed the moment.

This Thanksgiving just didn’t seem quite as ‘magical’ but I just realized maybe that’s why it wasn’t. I was trying too hard to force the magic, trying to recreate a moment that cannot be recreated. It was so wonderful because that’s exactly what it was – a moment – a thoroughly enjoyed moment. We are often lost in the efforts of making everything perfect, preparing that perfect meal, making sure our guests have that perfect time, that we forget to actually just enjoy it.

As many have said before – live in the moment. A lofty goal to be sure. But a moment is small. It is infinite. It is focused. Focus on the present, enjoy the little things you do in a day. Do plan for your future but don’t expect it to be a linear and solid line, expect it to be made of pinpricks. A million pinpricks can fill the sky with light. If you can do that, you will have many memories, many moments, to recall as you travel your future, whatever that future may be.

Anyways. Late Night Ravings. Sometimes you just have to let things happen

(enter Tom Cruise).