2019 Monterey Design Conference: Beyond Sustainability

Community, Sustainability
Steven Huegli, AIA, Principal
AIA California’s biennial gathering offers insights into the state of architecture. Using the AIA Framework for Design Excellence, which outlines strategies for sustainable, resilient and inclusive design, JENSEN principal Steven Huegli, AIA, introduces a selection of projects presented during the weekend conference.

Interspersed between wildfire news updates, reports of preemptive power outages, and expansive environmental resiliency conversations with fellow design professionals, the more resonant presenters at the 2019 Monterey Design Conference brought a broader approach to regenerative design practices beyond sustainability features. Angela Brooks, Brooks + Scarpa, opened the design-focused conference with a timely reminder of a series of sound environmental design practices embodied by the AIA’s COTE Top Ten Toolkit (now known as the AIA Framework for Design Excellence). I’ll use this framework to introduce a selection of extraordinary projects presented during the weekend conference.

Design for Integration

Through a series of provocative map overlays, Alberto Kalach, TAX, offered a visionary reversal of Mexico’s sprawling urban cancer (his word) back to sustaining, living ecological conditions. He presented these provocative images as precursors to his studio’s architectural and urban design proposals, which thread historic ecologies into possibilities for our present. Operating at various scales and project types encompassing urban infrastructure, civic buildings, solitary villas, and an impressive collection of gardens demonstrated the Mexico City architect’s intimate connection between built form and landscape.  

Image Courtesy of TAX

Design for Community

Dublin, Ireland’s Yvonne Farrell, Grafton Architects, presented a series of university buildings and municipal libraries that cleverly fold surrounding public streetscapes into their buildings’ interiors. The gesture creates an unexpected, contiguous whole, reinforcing the necessary interconnectedness of these community-serving programs. 

Image Courtesty Grafton Architects

Design for Ecology

We’re acquainted with RANA’s planted roofscapes for San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences and Transbay Transit Center — delightful, value-add ecologies within green-depleted urban landscapes. RANA is now leveraging these earlier projects at a much larger scale including a mixed-use, urban infill project in Hangzhou, China with Renzo Piano. Not only are the roofs at JNBY Headquarters vegetated with tea plants, but the vertical facades are living habitats, forming a three-dimensional garden district in an otherwise concrete-dominated cityscape.

Image Courtesy of RANA

Design for Water

COTE-recognized Dixon Water Foundation Josey Pavilion designed by Lake|Flato integrates rainwater collection for building and irrigation needs, and treats wastewater on-site through wetland biofiltration before recharging below ground aquifers. At a time when water table overdraft is an increasing environmental concern, the project’s water-use system offers a promising approach where water is a scarce resource.

Image Courtesy of Lake|Flato

Design for Economy

I recently retrofitted an existing building with FEMA mandated floodproofing measures, inserting a series of flood walls, flood shields and gates, pumps, and elevated utility distribution—an enormous undertaking. ANACAPA proposed a lighter, alternative approach to flood mitigation: instead of traditional defensive site-built construction, they created a mobile resort capable of relocation when flood waters threaten. I like to think the custom Airstream trailers brought to higher ground could also potentially house flood refugees.

Image Courtesy of Anacapa Architecture

Design for Energy

In collaboration with SOM, Mark Cavagnero’s recently completed Moscone Convention Center Expansion includes additional photovoltaic panels, expanding the nation’s largest municipally-owned PV array and generating approximately 20% of the building’s demand. The facility also is equipped with a robust water treatment system that recycles approximately 9 million gallons of stormwater and wastewater annually for non-potable uses including toilet flushing, irrigation, and filling street cleaning trucks.

Image Courtesy of Mark Cavagnero Associates

Design for Wellness

Speaking on behalf of MLTW, Donlyn Lyndon, shared his personal path from the east coast Bauhaus tradition to designing the highly influential, site-integrated Sea Ranch with landscape architect Lawrence Halprin.

Image Courtesy The Sea Ranch Association

Design for Resources

Gregg Pasquarelli, Shop, presented a series of projects that utilized digital fabrication and a mobile app to enable the architect to control design, production, and installation on large-scale projects such as Barclays Center and Botswana Innovation Hub. The technology has the potential to reduce material waste and speed supply chains, streamlining an often slow-to-adapt construction industry.

Image Courtesy SHoP Architects

Design for Change

 In a context where religious public gatherings are restricted, Neri & Hu’s understated design for Suzhou Chapel is an almost radical proposal of community integration. Sitting on a podium of textured salvaged local brick, public paths are folded into and through the seemingly monolithic chapel, revealing viewing galleries, catwalks and mezzanines wrapped in welcoming, warm wood screens. The path culminates at an elevated rooftop overlooking the small village the chapel serves.

Image Courtesy of Neri & Hu

Design for Discovery

Education and exploration are key to spreading sustainability awareness to building occupants, operators, and design practitioners alike. Ghost Laboratory, a series of student-led, experimental projects on Brian Mackay-Lyons’s Nova Scotia seaside homestead, provide a testing ground for innovative yet simply executed construction techniques while reinforcing the communal nature of building.