Tag Archives: sustainability

Living Buildings

In 2006, the International Living Future Institute created a challenge titled “The Living Building Challenge.” The challenge was deigned to inspire long-term thinking and make room for sustainability in the modern world. There are 20 criteria that must be met  for a building to be certified as a Living Building. The broad categories that these criteria fall under are site, water, energy, health, materials, equity, and beauty. Some of the specific requirements of these buildings include a net zero energy and water consumption,  support a car free lifestyle,  constructed in a sustainable location, and integrate agriculture, even in urban settings.  Because these requirements are performance based, simply constructing a building that meets these standards does not automatically mean it has met the challenge. A year-long occupancy period is also part of the challenge, where the building must show that it can continue to meet the challenge’s standards for at least one year.

The Living Building Challenge

The high standards of sustainability required to attain certification makes a Living Building even more challenging to achieve then the current sustainability standards of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED certification. LEED was created in 2000 by the U.S. Green Building Council as a way of calling attention to the green potential of buildings and inspiring green construction. To become LEED certified, the building must receive a certain minimum number of points on a 100 point scale in areas of “sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.” Living Building certification is endorsed by the U.S. Green Building Council as a way to take the idea of LEED a step further.

Currently, there are only three Living Building certified sites, however many more are under construction or entering the one year occupation period. There is currently  a building  under construction in Seattle, Washington that hopes to achieve Living Building certification.

Above is a rendering of what the new building will look like.

A variety of innovative ideas will be employed to allow the six story building to meet the Living Building requirements. The building  will achieve net zero energy by utilizing solar panels on the roof. The solar panels will contribute energy to the grid during the summer when the panels produce more electricity than needed. In the winter the building will have to draw energy from the grid to make up for the lack of sunlight, however the energy the building draws will be no more than it had contributed during the sunny summer months. Water equilibrium will be achieved by collecting rainwater and purifying it in an on-site facility. Water will also be circulated throughout the building as a means of temperature control to reduce the amounts of heating and cooling required.

Though the building may cost almost one third more than a conventional building, the savings in energy and water bills will more than make up for the additional cost. In addition, with the building designed to last 250 years, the savings over that time will be substantial.

The 10,000 Year Clock

A common theme throughout everything I have read so far regarding energy, sustainability, and the future is that the world is suffering from short-term thinking. Oil is being extracted at rapid rates and new unconventional oils are being developed to supply our growing demand. This type of short-term thinking will soon result in exhaustion of all oil reserves and leave society unprepared to live life without oil. It takes long-term thinking to realize the supply of oil is finite. It takes long-term thinking to conserve current supplies of oil. And it takes long-term thinking to start preparing for a world without oil by investing in renewable resources before the last drop of oil is pumped out of the ground. But how do we start to thinking long-term when short-term thinking creates jobs now, money now, and is easier to comprehend?

In 01996 Daniel Hillis, a computer scientist, decided to inspire long-term thinking in a dramatic way. He founded The Long Now Foundation with the intention of inspiring long-term thinking.  The foundation was established with the belief that humans do not realize the true meaning of “future.” We think of the future in a personal context of a week or a year, but few realize that the future goes beyond that and could mean 1000 years. The foundation even strives to inspire this type of long-term thinking by placing a zero in front of the year (02012) to increase demonstrate that 2012 isn’t such a large number and that there is still a long future ahead. To call attention to the need for long-term thinking Hillis conceived the 10,000 year clock as a symbol that will stand the test of time.

“I think it is time for us to start a long-term project that gets people thinking past the mental barrier of an ever-shortening future. I would like to propose a large (think Stonehenge) mechanical clock, powered by seasonal temperature changes. It ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium.”  — Daniel Hillis

 Above is a picture of the prototype clock that resides in the London Science Museum.

 Construction of the first non-prototype clock began recently in West Texas with the excavation of a mountain. That’s correct, the clock will be housed inside a 500 foot shaft excavated into the mountain, and the clock itself will stand 200 feet tall. To reach the clock once it is completed will require a two hour drive from the nearest airport and a 2,000 foot vertical climb up the mountain. Any visitor will know they have reached the location of the clock when they discover a jade door hidden behind a rock face that opens into the clock chamber.

Image of a model of the clock design used in development of the large clock.

The parts of the clock will be mainly stainless steel to prevent corrosion, and the bearings will be made of ceramic. According to a  2011 Discovery News article, “The clock will be powered by a thermoelectric generator, drawing electricity from the temperature difference between the hot exterior and the cool interior of the cave. A self-adjusting “solar synchronizer” will help the clock keep accurate time.” The synchronizer will work by tracking solar noon and adjusting the time of the clock accordingly. The clock will also include a star chart that accurately tracks the position of the stars above the clock, and a unique sequence of chimes will ring every day so that in 3.5 million days the same chime is never heard twice.

The idea behind the design of the clock is to create a mechanical clock that not only keeps time on a very long scale, but does not require electricity or extensive human maintenance. Because the clock is self-correcting it can be accurate within one day after 20,000 of operation. Even if humans do not maintain the clock by winding it, it will still function on its own and will regain accuracy once it is wound again.

The Long Now Foundation is an unfortunately rare example of forward thinking. Not only have they designed a monument to the future Earth, but they have ensured that it will operate even if our energy resources run out. The mere fact that a group of people were able to construct a clock that would be working and accurate in 10,00 years’ time is astounding and will hopefully inspire others to create sustainable technology. The clock is the perfect symbol of possibilities for the future and could inspire the long-term thinking we so desperately need.

“The Clock of the Long Now”

The clock allows us to imagine people in 10,000 years discovering the jade door in a mountain long after the clock was forgotten, climbing up the clock tower and hearing a chime that has never been heard before nor will it be heard again for centuries to come. It provides a much needed connection from the people of today to the people of tomorrow.