I am willing to admit it: I am a monster truck racing fan.
Now that probably seems strange coming from a green building consultant, especially when you consider that those trucks can burn up to a gallon of gas a second. The only green thing about them is probably the color of some of the trucks. But their cool paint schemes is not the reason why I became a fan a short time ago.
Complexity is Not Always Better
Most sports I grew up watching are complex. Football has 22 players, one ball and a dense book of rules. When the ball is snapped, chaos ensues. You need to know a lot just to determine who is winning. The game is so intricate you can’t always know what to look for so that you don’t miss anything. The same is true for baseball, hockey, and basketball. You have to pay attention and be a semi-expert to follow the action.
I took my 2-year-old son to a soccer game and he was more interested in the fans than the action. We were out of there within 10 minutes of sitting down. There was too much else to see in the stadium and the ball was just a blip in his field of vision. However, at a recent monster truck rally, his attention was glued for over two hours. Why?
During a rally, there is only one very large, very loud machine trying to go as high as possible. Everyone in the stands intuitively knows what to watch; you can’t miss it. After 90 seconds, a run is over and everyone is an instant judge. It’s obvious which trucks go higher, faster, and were louder than the others. Drivers who crash and burn receive more applause for their attempt than those who are timid but complete their run.
Simplicity in Sustainable Design
Now, think of the last sustainable design project you worked on. Was your green concept as simple as a monster truck rally or as complex as a football game? Did your stakeholders want data to prove its value or did they simply applaud the work? Did you play it safe and dilute your potential or go big and demand attention?
Go on the web and it’s easy find the biggest green roof in the world, the greenest building in Las Vegas or the greenest sky-rise in the world. You don’t have to get much beyond the way they look to trust the claim. We can all be instant judges because the design is intuitive, simple, and clear.
What each of the projects above did really well was to showcase two or three highly visible sustainable features to communicate the driving values of the project to occupants and magnify their impact.
Visitors to the Desert Living Center gain a new understanding of the daily impact of a green building when they get to experience rammed earth walls, cool towers, and diffuse daylight, seamlessly integrated with each other.
At the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, the sustainable design strategy helps visitors connect with the history of the Word War II conflict through a singular focus of mapping environmental needs (HVAC, lighting, etc.) to the experience of the story being told by the exhibits.
While these projects achieved Platinum and Gold ratings (respectively), their designs do not attempt to magnify each LEED credit. Doing so would have muddled the message and confused the experience of the user. Instead, the designs emphasize a few key features so occupants immediately understand the sustainability story.
Focus on the User Experience
Our lives are too busy and too distracted to catch the small nuances. If we want to make change, sometimes we have to be willing to be loud, go big, and demand the spotlight.
I once had an architecture professor tell me that I could not stop everyone at the door to explain what the concept of the building was. They had to understand it all on their own and you cannot rely on signage to explain it.
Extend that logic to any green building or sustainability program that you want to initiate, and you’ll be on the right track.
And, by the way, BIGFOOT has gone green… now what’s not to love?
Brad Pease AIA, LEED® AP BD is the leader of Paladino’s Signature Buildings Practice that guides owners to embed core organizational values around sustainability into their significant single building projects.