Better Buildings, Better Communities

By Chris Choi

Chicao Skyline from Lincoln Park Ask any seasoned green building professional, and they will tell you that an “integrated design” process is key to building a high performance structure.  This process consists of examining all building components and systems to determine how they best work together to save energy and reduce environmental impact.

At the “Applying Green Building Research Today” symposium this past summer, the conversations and sessions challenged my concept of what integrated design means—or what it should mean.

It’s safe to say that most buildings are built the old-fashioned way: a linear process where the owner shares ideas with the architect; the architect draws up the plans and sends to the contractor; the contractor builds the house.  Integrated design improves this process by encouraging collaboration of a team of designers and engineers early on.

During the process of planning the symposium in Chicago, I started to think that while integrated design is definitely a step in the right direction, there are many important aspects of society’s relationship to the built environment that are still ignored.  A building’s design, location and transportation options impact our behavior, health, environment, and finances. 

Questions started swirling around in my head…What can our social scientists teach us about the characteristics of healthy communities and how does this translate into how we design and set up our environments?  How do we create options to allow all residents to be mobile?  What physical elements can we change to positively impact our environment and the economic development of our cities?  I’m sure there are many other areas which haven’t even been explored.

Many of our speakers, who are on the leading edge of developing green buildings and livable communities, are already thinking of answers to these questions.  How do we get everyone else on board?  Regarding “integrated design,” I think we should expand the process to include the knowledge of urban planners, social scientists, community members, and those who can help create buildings that will improve the social, economic and environmental status of the impacted communities—also known as the triple bottom line.

Next time we think about developing a building, road, or community, wouldn’t it be great to integrate the health and well-being of the potential users as well as building system functionality?

About the Author: Chris Choi is a Community Planner in U.S. EPA’s Region 5 Office in Chicago.  He is a part of a Leadership Team for EPA’s National Green Building Workgroup and works on community redevelopment and land revitalization projects.  When not at work, you can find him on his bike or eating his way through the city’s many neighborhoods.

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