Simple changes with green design make all difference 

Sexy, high-tech innovations within the green movement are what grab headlines, as evidenced by the unveiling of Rand Elliott's newest concept for energy efficient skyscrapers called "Turbinomic." The design looks vaguely like a lawn dart imbedded in the Oklahoma City cityscape, with the most striking featuring being spinning, horizontal turbines that would allow the structure to generate its own power through the wind.


Elliott is the mind behind the neon soda pop bottle at Pops in Arcadia, Red Prime Steak and the upcoming Devon Boathouse, which broke ground earlier in June. When Elliott unveiled his design for the eco-skyscraper at a luncheon at the Skirvin Hotel, it received "oohs" and "aahs," but it also inspired questions about its feasibility and cost.

"Turbinomic" might be striking and exciting, but the true future of green architecture is likely to be much more mundane, according to Marjorie Callahan, an architect and landscape architecture associate professor at the University of Oklahoma's College of Architecture.

She utilized the university's Horizons Unlimited program to give budding architects in the sixth through eighth grades an intensive one-week program on how to build green.

The techniques are less focused on technology and more about design, such as building from materials available locally, landscaping that will shade and capture water more effectively and how to position a building to make the most of available light.

"We are trying to be more realistic and make it part of everyday life," Callahan said. "Part of the hope is the students go home and make statements to their parents about trash placement, window orientation, where the winds come from in Oklahoma. It will be about having an awareness of what is available in Oklahoma and other simple things they can do."

The architectural program is offered every summer, but this is the first time it focused on environmentally conscious approaches to design. Callahan is pleased that younger minds are more open to these concepts, but said that green architecture wasn't always such a popular concept.

"When I was a young architect, I was doing a design for a corporation and I felt that everyone should have natural light," Callahan said. "The corporation actually had a list of people separated into levels, and if you were at this level you could have a trash can and two chairs, but you weren't ready for a window."

As energy prices have gone up, corporations have warmed to efficient designs. Callahan said younger architects have had the concepts ingrained in them since they were children, so they are looking for ways to improve building designs that are usually surprisingly low-tech and affordable.

"Simple things, like the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, and how useful that can be to consider versus not even thinking about it," she said. "There is also the longitudinal length of the building and the benefit of certain sides having more surface area. The 'chimney effect,' which is an idea of bringing in air low and lifting it up and out so the air moves naturally and easily."

OU isn't the only institution thinking about green designs these days. The state's Department of Central Services is also on board as of July 1 after the passage of House Bill 3394.

 According to John Morrison, the state's construction administrator, all state government building projects exceeding 10,000 square feet must comply with national certification programs for sustainability, which means the designs must take into account energy conservation, water conservation, use of recycled materials and other concepts to reduce the building's environmental impact and save taxpayers' money in energy costs.

The bill will also be extended to major renovations of existing buildings. DCS will not actually be in charge of any specific projects, but its team of architects and engineers will review plans and ensure that efficiency standards are being taken into account. Not every "green" innovation will be utilized, however.

 "The goal of the act is to make decisions wisely based on real payback," Morrison said. "Just doing this for the sake of doing this could be a costly endeavor. From the state's standpoint, what we are interested in is looking at the life cycle cost and making sure the plans and designs for a new building set parameters that are meaningful for the state of Oklahoma and the taxpayers."

Morrison insists the new step in the design process shouldn't slow down construction or renovations of new buildings that much since most modern architects are already taking efficiency into account.

"The concepts of sustainable design have become well-entrenched in professional design communities; most engineers engaged in the building process are well-versed in these concepts," he said. "This isn't new stuff. It is just tapping into existing and emerging technology, and if that design process just takes an extra 30 days, the benefits will outweigh that."  "Charles Martin

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