It would seem that I owe Frank Gehry an apology or, since it is unlikely that Mr. Gehry is aware of my existence, that I at least owe our readers a follow up to my post last year in which I condemned certain aspects of his work. You may recall that Gehry was quoted last year in Business Week, disparaging both the cost and effectiveness of LEED. I had a pretty strong reaction to this, and I wasn’t the only one. More recently Gehry tempered his stance on LEED in an interview with PBS. It’s worth reading the whole thing but he basically says that he would prefer increasing the thresholds of codes rather than legislating the point-based system of LEED. It’s a fair point, though I would argue we need voluntary standards like LEED or the Living Building Challenge to demonstrate what is possible before we can begin to mandate individual elements within codes. In any case, what caught my eye in this interview was his reference to his Novartis building in Switzerland. He is quoted as follows:
“They set very particular standards: The Swiss government said the Novartis building couldn’t be air-conditioned. So we had to come up with another way to regulate the temperature. We built it entirely out of glass and cooled it with a geothermal system. The roof panels were made with photovoltaic glass that generates energy. And there is an opening at the top that lets hot air out — like a teepee. In the end, there’s no one way to do it, you have to be creative.”
First we have to set aside the perverse formulation “we weren’t allowed air conditioning so we made it entirely of glass”, which is a little like saying “I needed to walk across town as fast as possible so I tied my feet together and wore a blindfold.” But the important piece is that Gehry created a building with all the sculptural flair one expects from him but with an added layer of intellectual complexity- environmentally sensitive design. In formal terms the Novartis building is not THAT different from Gehry’s IAC building here in NYC. They are both all glass office buildings featuring sail-like forms and ludicrously wealthy clients/tenants. The difference is simple- in Switzerland they have high energy and environmental standards. While I think it’s unfortunate that Gehry doesn’t bring this rigor to every project I am very happy there are places that require him to do so. Viva la codes!