Do you live in a city? If you do, you know that city dwellers face a particularly unique set of sustainability challenges. Cutting through the complexities of the effects of global climate changes on cities and providing answers to the below questions should be on the minds and desks of every architect, builder, designer, construction worker and city resident.
• How to reduce carbon emissions?
• How to make buildings comfortable, healthy and affordable?
• How to deal with waste needs?
• How to look at changing water needs?
• How to make green spaces for people, plants and wildlife?
What happens when you try to build a building of tomorrow today?
I recently viewed, the award-winning film, The Greening of Southie and found some answers.
The subject of this documentary is the first residential green building in Boston. The film chronicles the lifecycle of the building from the rainforests of South America to the steel mills of New England to the streets of a Boston and the densely urban community of Southie.
With hopes of changing the building industries tremendous amount of waste, owner and developer, Tim Pappas embraces the idea of creating the first green building–the Macallen building in Boston. “If the building sector doesn’t do things differently, we are adding to the problems facing the environment.”
The goal of the team of architects, builders and construction workers was to build an environmentally friendly, LEED apartment building. The building would be, “green from the ground up.” The film followed the team as they struggled to learn together how to tally up enough points to achieve gold LEED certification.
While the architects held the knowledge and vision about building green, the workers were not accomustomed to many of the materials. A construction worker is interviewed about the usage of dual-flush toilets and he quips, “Dual flush? Yeah, I flush twice all the time!” Another, in regards to green building says, “At first I thought that meant that we were painting it green.” The workers discover for themselves what eco-friendly building means, “I’m not a nature person and I’ve never been in a green building, but I like that everything is recycled.”
One of the workers enjoyed the challenge of green building and brings his daughter to the worksite to share what he’s learned. He also takes the leftover and castoff building materials to his Southie home and rebuilds his kitchen in the same flavor of the Macallen building.
Some of the green building materials that achieved the LEED rating and added to the “loop” of a sustainable building for the 11-story Macallen Building are:
• Fiberglass irrigation tanks that collect rainwater for reuse
• 99% of the steel used was recycled steel made within close proximity to job site in Boston
• A sand stone foundation came from local quarries
• Renewable bamboo flooring was used and a statement made about the amount of fossil fuel being a huge trade-off for a green product
• Dual flush toilets
• A heat recovery system that takes some of the heated air and recycles it back into the building
• Double pane windows
• Recycled cotton insulation
• A liquid roof membrane made from dry rotting soil that allows the residents to plant no eminence succulent plants
• Wheatboard cabinets made from wheat straw
• Cumaru decking material came from a controlled forest with no clear cutting
The building comes together with all of the usual trial and errors. The team was in constant problem-solving mode. The builders faced problems with the expanding wheatboard cabinets, and the no-VOC green guard glue caused the floor to buckle. The bamboo floors had to be ripped up.
But, as the project began to take shape and the building leaders visions came to fruition, it is the attitudes of the construction workers that is so delightful. After rough talk and resistance, the workers found the building a healthy alternative to typical construction sites. They liked that the recycled carton fabric caused less skin irritations. The insulation was better for the workers overall health. The workers had doubts about the wheatboard cabinets since they were expanding and holding water, but were happy they didn’t have to install formaldehyde cabinets. The workers took immense pride in the fact that they had a hand in giving the old city of Boston this landmark building. One worker summed it up, “We’ve ruined the environment, so why can’t we help fix it.”
The Greening of Southie is being released to theaters in May and will air on the Sundance Channel. The film will be screened in union halls and building centers across the country on Earth Day.
Ronnie Citron-Fink lives in New York with her husband, two children (when they come home to the nest), two dogs and a cat. Ronnie is a teacher and a writer. She has been a contributing writer for Family Fun magazine. She currently writes articles about education and home design. Her writings are in four books including Family Fun Home and Some Delights of the Hudson Valley.