Rico Quirindongo looks at his purpose as an architect a bit differently then some might expect — he puts people first, designing structures that not only serve the needs of the community, but also allow for greater engagement with building systems. That space for engagement also sets the foundation for behavior change and culture shift that comes from emergent systems. In our Emerging Leader Spotlight, Rico tells us how we can make our buildings greener and significantly improve our communities in the process.
GoGreen Conference: Has the role of the building changed over the past 100 years? Or is it us that has changed?
Rico Quirindongo: It has less to do with the role of the building and more to do changing role of the design team and/or the building owner as they create and maintain a structure. What role does a building play? Providing shelter. Creating community. We’ve been pretty consistent on that program. But culturally, there hasn’t been a clear acknowledgement that those buildings — those highly evolved caves that we now create — have a profound impact on the ecosystems we inhabit.
Buildings are responsible for almost 50 percent of energy consumption on the planet — be it through maintenance or construction. If we can design buildings better — such that they are self sustaining within their own environment and don’t have to pull energy off of the grid — the energy crisis literally just goes away. So, it is less about the role of the building and more about the role of us; the humans, as stewards of the environment and stewards of our own environment. How do we create and maintain our structures to actually live in concert with the environment around us for our own benefit and for our own survival?
GG: It sounds like you’re touching on behavior change here. Considering the fact that humans don’t have the best (in terms of evolution) track record of thinking long term, do we need additional incentives on top of good design to drive behavior change? Things like gamification elements?
RQ: I have come to understand, especially looking at social media, that we have begun to change culturally — it’s all about data and the conversation around this data is helping designers drive down energy consumption through design that works for people. We can now put filters on all of the random data being collected and see where things intersect. The question has become, “How do you take that data and leverage it to make smarter decisions about how we live?”
There is a lot of conversation about the importance of utility monitoring and developing the ability to do that real-time. This has a major impact on budgets during the construction and the maintenance phases. Right now it’s hard to create an energy budget, because you can’t track it and make adjustments in real time. If we give people those tools, all of a sudden they can establish a budget for themselves: how much gas, how much electricity, how much water are you going to expend in the month of January? If you use less energy than you budgeted, do you get a reward for it? And does anyone else care about that?
If you live in a building or neighborhood with a community of people, managing utilities can become a group effort with rewards and competitive elements based on technology that now allows us to see and control utilities remotely — on your smartphone even — which encourages behavior modification and eventually, culture modification. I think that is a really exciting paradigm shift.
GG: Switching gears. Research shows that less economically affluent communities are often historically left to bare the brunt of environmental hazards and energy inefficiency in their built environments. How is it possible to get better design into the hands of the people that need it the most — but might not be able to afford it through traditional models?
RQ: The financial performance of a project is just like the energy performance of the project — it’s a series of puzzle pieces. I had a project designing a museum which included affordable housing above the museum. The funding diagram for that project had like 60 different funders putting all the pieces together — it was complicated, but there was also opportunity in there.
I’m also working on a project of small homes where we evaluate engineers as they go through the design process. Once it was bid, there was so much money saved because of efficiencies built into the design that we are now being asked by our clients to reinvest half of those savings back into additional energy efficiency and sustainable building design. Which is great, because an affordable housing community will now receive the on-going benefit. The point is that you can do it, but you have to be creative and you need good data that will motivate people to act.
If I know that I lose $200 a month because I leave my heat on at night or when I leave the house, I’m probably going to start turning off the heat when I leave the house and while I’m sleeping. If we just make that knowledge conscious, people begin to change around it. For a design team, if the goal is to maximize the budget and put as much money as we can into sustainability components after fulfilling the foundational brick and mortar elements, it simply changes the nature of conversation from the ground up.
In Golden Gate Park there are two highly published buildings that were built five years apart from each other. One of them is a copper clad museum that was on all of the front covers of design magazines for its beauty. But in that first year of existence, the owner learned all of the copper-cladding — while completely beautiful — was unintentionally polluting the ground water when it rained. The water that runs down the building was pulling copper into the ground water system.
Meanwhile, five years later another building is constructed across the way and it also made the front page of all of the design magazines. But it got attention because it’s a green building with rolling ecoroof and uses 50 percent of the power that similar buildings use. It is in concert with its environment.
Five years was the difference in those buildings designed for the same client, the point being that it’s important to be clear, conscious and responsible for the dollars we have for a project. We don’t need more money, we just need to have our minds and hearts in the right place in order to design buildings that result in the betterment of the environment and the communities we live in.
Rico Quirindongo is a Principal at DKA Architecture, working extensively with community organizations to make positive impact in their neighborhoods. He is a featured speaker at GoGreen ’12 Seattle, April 25 at the Conference Center downtown, providing his insights and expertise on our Emerging Leaders: Trends and Culture Shifts as a New Generation Takes the Torch panel. Registration and event details can be found at seattle.gogreenconference.net.