Recap: Terrapin at Greenbuild 2018


Recap: Terrapin at Greenbuild 2018

The green building sector in some ways still feels young, which makes opportunities to convene and connect that much more important. Greenbuild provides the platform on which interdisciplinary green building professionals can meet, discuss lessons learned, explore new perspectives, and chart a path forward. It has become a conduit for inspiration and re-energizing for those whose job can often be an exhausting uphill battle against value engineering, standard-practice inertia, and the conflicting aesthetic inclinations of the designer. This year proved no exception, with emerging hot topics, design tools, and technologies sure to shake up the practice.


Here are some of the dominant themes and emerging trends that we noticed:


  • Human x Nature; We must consider not just our impact on natural and built environments, but also their impact on us. Let’s strive to make healthy and nature-connected spaces accessible to all.
  • Embodied Carbon is moving to center stage; this metric for carbon accounting has been notoriously hard to gauge, however, new tools are helping designers make carbon-smart decisions.
  • Designers are increasingly being held liable for the products they spec; this means ingredient lists, and product speccing tools will need to be even more integrated into the designers workflow.
  • The language we use to talk about environmental stewardship matters; Given the political polarization around climate change mitigation, different words trigger different associations.
  • Tech companies are showing more and more leadership in sustainability; maybe it’s a product of their innovation-centric company culture, or maybe a tribute to their overall success, but these companies are taking on these aspirational challenges with a unrivaled drive.


Here’s a look at some of our favorite sessions we attended:


Immersive Biophilic Interventions

In “Immersive Biophilic Interventions,” Jonce Walker and Heather Walters of Thornton Tomasetti, Maggie Stone of The Nature Conservancy in Maine, and Terrapin’s Bill Browning discussed local ecosystem-specific biophilic design. Perhaps most interested about the session was the format. After presenting three case studies, each in a distinct ecosystems, the presenters turned it over to the audience, who were asked to apply what they learned to create biophilic interventions in the region they were assigned. To heighten their creativity, each ecosystem was described not only with text, but also scents, images, textures and even sounds. The results were testimony to the success of the presentation. Groups presented an impressive array of ideas that captured dominant shapes and structures, massing, color gradients, textures, thermal properties, and even cultural characteristics.


Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3)

MaterialsCAN (Carbon Action Network), including Interface, Skanska, Gensler, and a host of other companies presented EC3, an interactive tool to compare embodied carbon in building materials. Surprisingly, embodied carbon of the same types of products can vary tremendously by manufacturer. Using this tool, the team was able to show a 30% reduction in embodied carbon with zero cost increase in first cost. The outcomes of this impressive tool go to show that our ability to design sustainably is often limited, not by intent, but by the information and tools at our disposal.


7 Reasons Microbiomes Are Critical to the Future of the Built Environment

Did you know microbes in and on our body outnumber our own cells by 10 fold. These microbes form important relationships with our cells to help carry out bodily functions. In this session, Amy Leedham, an environmental design consultant at Atelier Ten, and Jane Flint, a microbiologist and professor of Princeton University, explored the role of microbes in our biological health, and how our indoor environment can affect this microbe diversity. They presented the science behind this human-microbe relationship, current design challenges, and ways to design with microbiomes in mind. Among those solutions are increased daylighting (UV from daylight, have been shown to kill harmful microbes while retaining many of those important to human health) and introducing a variety of indoor plants and soil, both of which provide excellent mediums for cultivating beneficial microbes.


The Experiential Perimeter Zone

In many respects, designers aim for satisfaction– hoping occupants won’t notice or complain about air temperature, lighting quality, etc.. But how might we start designing for intrigue and delight rather than simple satisfaction? Judith Heerwagen, of the US GSA, Gail Brager, of UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design & Kristen DiStefano, of Atelier Ten,  explored this idea with three distinct perspectives. They introduced the neuroscience of sensory variability and alliesthesia, how this insight could change the practice of human-centered design, and conclude with some of the new tools that help designers predict the nuanced sensory conditions of these tricky perimeter zones.


Stephen Kellert Award

In honor of Stephen Kellert, a pioneer and leader in articulating and applying biophilic design principles to the built environment, the International Living Future Institute presented their second Stephen R. Kellert Award. Hosted by Interface, the award highlights particular projects that were designed to embody biophilic design principles in innovative and intriguing ways. This year saw two winners, the VanDusen Botanical Gardens Visitor Centre by Perkins+Will, & the Betty and Clint Josey Pavilion by Lake Flato. The beautiful Van Dusen building was inspired by the shape of a native orchid and ties to several habitat on its site, while the Josey Pavilion is an expression of incredibly well thought through and elegant simplicity that engages visitors in an experience of place.  Other finalists were Google’s 1212 Bordeaux by Parabola, The Amazon Spheres by NBBJ, Environmental Learning Center by McGranahan Architects.


All in all we had a wonderful time connected with friends, old and new, and seeing the inspiring progress that this field accomplishes each year.  


Feature & Header image courtesy of Brad Knight/Unsplash

Dakota Walker is an Associate Project Manager & Research Analyst at Terrapin Bright Green. He recently graduated summa cum laude from the University of North Carolina Asheville with a degree in Environmental Management and Policy. Dakota believes the genius of nature has yet to be matched by human innovation. He’s interested in finding new approaches to solving contemporary policy and design challenges that reflect the resilience and resourcefulness of natural systems.