Friday, March 5, 2010

How We Got Here

We've had a home builder's development model that was red-hot in the last decade until 2008. Policies were developed in the late 1990's by the BIA through SCAG to capitalize on it for the foreseeable future even when no more sprawl was possible.

This meltdown created by the mortgage and banking industry was part of the same irrationality. That part has hit severely, here at home and across the globe, since it was simply a giant pyramid scheme, unrecognized at the time by players too intent on huge rates of return. Also due to the repeal of Glass-Steagall by Clinton.

This blowup hit the home builders disproportionately, even as Sacramento is bent on busting CEQA in order to allow destructive development, albeit under "greenwash" terms.

They've lost their traditional market, especially since there's too much product now.

Also, as I drive around and see the local smaller commercial projects being built, I see large contractor names on the projects that you'd expect to see builder names on, particularly since small commercial construction is how the builders move up in the construction field.

This happens to the architects during severe recessions, too, the smaller firms get pushed out by the big guys running around and sucking up their work at competitive prices because they have the ability, due to their size, to undercut prices and carry stretched billables due to their larger lines of credit. They normally don't go after the smaller projects because the profit margins are low. But in times like these, it's just about keeping billable projects in the pipeline.

So SB 375 and RHNA allocations in California have turned into mechanisms to salvage the housing industry for the Realtors and home builders, and have nothing to do with reducing CO2 or even traffic, since more square footage generates more of both. In order to go to "zero footprint" it's more expensive and bigger-scaled than production housing can provide to the market. Our industry is predicting that larger firms and bigger urban projects will be the norm in the future. To quote an AIA position paper issued in January:

"Energy modelling will mature. Since buildings are a source of huge waste and inefficiency, experts will be sought to offer advice. Ninety-nine (99) percent of the built environment already exists in North America. So, although 2010's new buildings will be designed for energy efficiency, special attention will be given to the 99 percent that already exist. Architects and engineers will flood this space as the de facto renovation and energy experts."

Energy (power and fuel) accounts for the largest percentage of GHG's, so this is the only viable way to go. The way we design and restore the built and natural environment is changing drastically. This means that existing buildings will need to be recycled/rebuilt to significantly reduce energy and water consumption without tearing them down and wasting huge amounts of perfectly good building material. Nothing wrong with this future at all, except that destructive resistance to this necessary solution is being employed by the oil and building industries in the name of "job preservation". Which belies the implementation of energy strategies such as the one in the above photo of the photovoltaic assembly incorporated into the existing Mercedes Benz plant in Germany. Not only that, it incorporates employee feed back and energy improvement suggestions as part of its internal policies. The way to the future is here.