O'Malley and Handeen lead Cafe Scientifique interactive discussion

Rachel O'Malley (MArch, 2007) and Dan Handeen (MArch, 2007) started their talk at Café Scientifique with sustainably focused Mad Libs on October 20, 2010. This game asks for blind input from the audience, words that were then used for an ironic critique on greenwashed design. Both speakers are research fellows at the Center for Sustainable Building Research (CSBR) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professionals (LEED APs). They acknowledged that, as essential as rating systems and checklists are to monitoring and evaluating function, they do not address many contextual or systemic issues in sustainable design. They criticized marketing ploys and social statements for products and processes billed as sustainable initiatives but lacking in beneficial ecological impact.

Quick verbal and graphic brainstorming exercises ensued, having the audience thinking through household systems that support us such as energy, water, and coffee. All solutions were accepted and the simple games offered opportunities for the audience to contribute their own tips, such as refrigerators functioning more efficiently when kept 2/3 full.

Sometimes the best response is the simplest. Common sense approaches to living in this climate, like putting on more clothes when cold instead of turning up the thermostat, were offered alongside more technological approaches like return air heat exchangers, devices that borrow heat from exhaust air to pre-heat exterior air. Many concepts were accompanied by simple graphics created by Handeen, like the examples shown below.

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Home energy efficiency options.

Although many audience members noted that it "wasn't what they thought it would be," the general consensus was that the breakdown for laypeople was very educational and fun. One audience member, Angie Arner, saw many common themes between sustainable architecture and her own explorations in upcycling fashion at Counter Couture.

Handeen and O'Malley's conceptual framework, which they called the Order of Operations, had three steps:

  1. Lessify: reduce demand
  2. Maximize: meet demand efficiently
  3. Neutralize: use renewable sources

Essentially, approaches that include social and site-specific characteristics will offer a more diverse set of actions for sustainable living than performance data alone. This framework was used to talk through a variety of sustainable adjustments that can be made to living environments.

Discussing these concepts and sharing solutions in a relaxed and humorous setting helps build a community around these necessary lifestyle shifts. O'Malley and Handeen, along with John Carmody (CSBR) have collaborated with the Bell Museum to create the Sustainable Shelter: Dwelling Within the Forces of Nature, exhibit now open at the Bell Museum. The installation details innovative home building technologies and strategies that can help restore the health and viability of natural systems.

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