For the past five years I've done a good deal of the planning for the Architectural Record/GreenSource Innovation Conference. My method is to try and detect the buzz in the profession, find it's common threads and to find speakers who, when put together, tell a story. in a way it's like conducting a series of articles for an article. It is worth noting that it can be a real challenge is to find a title that encapsulates that story in just a few words.

The ideas behind this year's conference, "Big and Supergreen, from Buildings to Cityscapes" emerged slowly and originated from New Yorker writer David Owen's article "Green Manhattan" which was published in 2004 almost exactly six years ago. Sometimes these conferences develop over a number of years; this one certainly did.

Owen's article compared the energy efficiencies of Manhattan to less densely populated towns and cities, particularly those that serve and are served by sprawling suburbs. They're dependent of course, on vast tracts single-family houses and hundreds of miles roads and highways. Cities like Manhattan were built in such a way that they support public transportation and offices and apartments usually only lose or gain heat on one or two sides--not five sides. Nobody drives to work if they can help it. You will not find very many roofs whose size approaches or exceeds a quarter of an acre.

His point, although it was not explicitly stated, is that we cannot solve the global warming problem by greening one building at time. We cannot solve it by building more buildings, even if they are green. You have to look at the problem on a regional scale.

And from those ideas a conference was born. 

Our staff members, Bryant Rousseau, Laura Raskin, and Alanna Malone have written blogs about most of the conference's sessions which appear below. I want to draw attention to the lecture given by Roger Frechette of the PositivEnergy Practice who appeared with Robert Forest of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture. They presented their firms' Decarbonisation of Chicago Plan, a very impressive report which deconstructs the Chicago Loop and examines ways in which it could be decarbonised. Alanna Malone's blog does a nice job of summarizing it, but it is worth saying that what excited me about the plan is that it reimagines the area's usage. It is now predominately offices, but imagine it as a vibrant 24/7 neighborhood, complete with schools, grocery stores, and residential buildings. After all, if you are going to expend enormous amounts of carbon heating and cooling all that space, you might as well have it occupied. And if people move here, the theory goes, another building elsewhere won't be needed.

David Owen described his talk as the one that was going to make our architect-audience discouraged—after all new construction is the architectural profession's bread and butter. And, a massive resettlement of people into the cores of our downtowns doesn't seem all that likely in the near term. On the other hand, Frechette and Forest's plan makes me optimistic: if an area like the Loop can provide has housing, stores, entertainment and educational facilities people will resettle there. There are 550 buildings in the Loop, and transforming them would mean a lot of work for the likes of us. Jamie Von Klemperer's presentation of New Songdo City in South Korea brilliantly follows these kinds of ideas, and the vertical city presented by Javier Pioz and Rosa Cervera went along with it too, offering a peek into what might be our future.

I always like to put some building case studies in our conferences, and in this case I chose green buildings that make a positive contribution to the urban areas where they're located. Among the buildings shown this year was the Unilever building in Hamburg, Germany, a green building which anchors a new neighborhood. It was ably presented by Matt Noblett of Behnisch Arkitekten. The Manitoba Hydro building which I've blogged about below also has a major urban design component. The Burj Khalifa is a big, if not necessarily green, building I couldn't resist including. Bill Baker of SOM didn't disappoint—it was frankly one of the most captivating presentations of advanced engineering concepts that I have ever seen. But, I would like to see him get together with Rosa and Javier someday.

Putting the Innovation Conference together takes the better part of a year. But when I see an audience completely captivated by what they're hearing and seeing, and I'm told by then that the story we put together changed the way they will work and the way they see the world, it's worth it.
 
So, now it's time to start planning the next one. Does anybody have any ideas? Either way, I hope to see you next October.