A Conversation With Daniel L. Faoro, Professor of Architecture

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Faoro-Post.jpg An associate professor of architecture and interim department chair at Lawrence Technological University, Daniel L. Faoro works daily to develop in his students an appreciation for sustainable design and ecological literacy through his lectures and teaching. In addition to all of his time spent in academia studying the subjects (he's also taught at North Dakota University, the University of Detroit, and others), Faoro has worked in the field, as a draftsman and project designer with Wilson/Jenkins and Associaties and Skidmore, Owings and Merill back in the '80s.

Here, Faoro discusses how all of our sources of alternative energy production only make up about five percent of the world's energy sources; why Italian-American architect Paolo Solari deserves to be in a sustainability Hall of Fame for coining the term arcology and his work recognizing a connection between architecture, design science, and ecology; and how Gregorian Chant helps him to stay focused.

What do you say when people ask you, "What do you do?"

I say I work on developing in students knowledge of ecological literacy through teaching principles of sustainable architecture, and engage in developing research projects on sustainable inventions. The projections of building organizations, e.g., The U.S. Green Building Council, predict that 75 percent of the future building projects will be renovation and adaptive reuse projects, which is one of the most sustainable building strategies. In addition, institutional clients and municipalities are increasing efforts to implement green building standards (LEED) and municipal zoning codes, and the International Building Code will be promulgating a green building code soon. In short, various ecological imperatives will impact the profession and society at large in the near future.

What new idea or innovation is having the most significant impact on the sustainability world?

I would say, based on compliance requirements, the building and zoning codes and regulations that limit energy use and air/water pollution have the largest impact. The evidence of this is in innovation and energy reduction strategies employed in buildings in Germany, a country with one of the most stringent energy conservation codes.

What's something that most people just don't understand about your area of expertise?

Most people I doubt understand the magnitude of the problem and what accomplishment in sustainable architecture is and how we can modify the future impact on Earth. There is no quick and easy solution to non-fossil fuel energy production. People need to understand that all the sources of alternative energy production are only about five percent of the world's energy sources. Even if it we expand wind and solar power production significantly it will be subject to production capacity limits, and have a minor impact on fossil fuel consumption as they amount to about 2.02 percent of the worlds power. In addition, the growth of populations in Pacific Rim countries and India is very significant as these countries are expanding roadway infrastructure and buildings with modern conveniences, i.e. air-conditioning. They are moving toward the lifestyle found in Western nations. David Dunster, the British architect, estimates that if the world on average consumed power and consumer products at the rate of the developed Western nations we would require three times the natural resources we have available. In the U.S., buildings are estimated to consume 48 percent of the energy we use and reduction of the energy consumed by buildings, existing and future, is our largest potential opportunity to reduce consumption.

What's an emerging trend that you think will shake up the sustainability world?

A positive action could be the rebirth of nuclear power for utilities. Since the recent tragic Japanese earthquake incident we are again questioning the safety of nuclear power. But most people are unaware that there was another nuclear power plant in Japan at that time that did not have incidents of deaths from radiation leaks, it was the aircraft carrier the U.S. Ronald Reagan.

A negative consequence of a lack of action to conserve resources could be another world war. The historian Kenneth Jackson, author of Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States, stated that World War I and World War II both resulted from fossil fuel energy shortages that caused emerging industrial countries to invade resource-rich nations. In that regard, energy demand from the current emerging market nations may result in similar shortages and, in turn, world conflict. I hope we do not live out the old adage that it takes a crisis to precede change.

What's a sustainability trend that you wish would go away?

First I would say the idea of deep ecology. When pushed to the extreme it can result in views of saving the Earth for the sake of the Earth alone. Stewardship means that we are to make prudent use of the resources of the world, but in the service of mankind, not just in spite of mankind.

The second is related to this idea that human actions always alter and harm the Earth, as in the case of global warming. We know that mankind produces greenhouse gasses and that they contribute to increased solar radiation -- or global warming. We also have evidence that the Earth has undergone temperature changes prior to mankind's burning of fossil fuel. Can it be possible that our burning of fossil fuel elevated temperatures in the last 100 years and prevented climate changes that would have lead to crop reduction and human starvation?

Lastly, the idea that we can have zero-energy buildings and that solar or wind power will make significant contributions to energy use. This leads to a view that successful ecological architecture results in viewing every project or building as a producer of goods, if we push this idea to the extreme only organic farms and alternative energy power plants meet this standard. Even the most energy conserving of the conventional building types we see in the Western world are not close to net-zero energy. To paraphrase Lawrence Scarpa," if a zero-energy building was not beautiful we would have to ask should it be built".

What's an idea you became fascinated with but that ended up taking you off track?

Combining conventional infrastructure, bridges, high-line utility towers with alternative energy-generation devises. We need to expand on the strategy of co-generation. Reusing a building or industrial plants waste energy for use in space heating or cooling. Today we have opportunities to use existing infrastructure facilities to generate energy. In building projects today a retention pond for holding storm water runoff can be a source of power for pond-assisted geothermal energy. A bridge or a high-tension line can support wind turbines. But in the end this idea lacked one essential element of architecture: beauty.

Who are three people or organizations that you would put in a Hall of Fame for your field?

One of the founders of the ecological movement, Aldo Leopold, and architects William McDonough, and Paolo Solari. Leopold made a comparison to how mankind views an efficient ecosystem by comparing woodland with a tree farm. One recognizes the natural order of symbiotic relationship between plants and organisms while the other is concerned with the science of growing, harvesting plant life for maximum production/consumption. His observations are linked to the value of understanding the interrelationships of bio-systems, or the ecology of a region, which has lead to innovative thinking in architecture, landscape architecture, and engineering. William McDonough I admire for his broad long-term vision and cradle-to-cradle ideas in decision making in design. A visionary, Solari coined the term arcology, meaning a merger of ecology and architecture. His new term recognized a connection between architecture, design science, and ecology. Design science, like ecology, is concerned with the interrelationships of systems and wholes. Ecology, architecture, and design-based problems are also concerned with values and ethics and dedicated to improving our quality of life. Design science, unlike physical science, is said to start with the wholes and works to the particular.

What other field or occupation did you consider going into?

Planning and civil engineering, because they have broader social- and resource-related implications.

What website or app most helps you do your job on a daily basis?

American Institute of Architects; the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE); the United States Green Building Council; the ATHENA Eco Calculator; and AutoDesk -- Green Building Studio Software.

What song's been stuck in your head lately?

Gregorian Chant Benedictinos. It helps me to remember who I am, and who I am called to be.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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