Design at the Core of Green Architecture
“There is a misconception regarding the definition of ‘green’, which is just an umbrella term. Socalled green buildings aim for efficiency and a reduction in energy consumption.” When José Picciotto, Design Director of Picciotto Arquitectos, began focusing on energy efficient buildings 15 years ago, he was a pioneer in the market. Back then, the private sector was not familiar with what Picciotto was offering, and therefore there was barely any demand for his services. The situation started changing eight years ago and now sustainability and energy efficiency are common subjects of conversation. A turning point, Picciotto says, was when the US became concerned with the environment even though Europe had already made significant progress in energy efficient architecture. “In Europe, people have been aware of efficiency for years now because of their limitations. Some countries are not rich in hydrocarbons and so their energy costs are expensive. This situation forced European countries to embrace a sustainable building approach, which the US recently adopted,” details Picciotto. In his view, two events reshaped the way buildings are planned in Mexico City: the 1985 earthquake and NAFTA, which brought about quick changes to the construction sector. He believes the same will happen with the Energy Reform. “Many international companies will arrive in Mexico and will look for office buildings that adhere to sustainable practices.”
Twenty years ago, says Picciotto, intelligent buildings were the trend in the Mexican construction industry. The focus of these buildings was not on energy efficiency, but on the control and automation of lighting and security. “This was a promising start for the increasing interest in energy efficiency we are seeing today, as the evolution of the market generated requirements for something new.” The 2009 recession, however, had negative effects on the construction sector, and green buildings were not a priority for clients because of budget constraints.
“It was difficult to find a client that is looking to have a green building from the start. Usually, we would have to convince our customers,” tells Picciotto, who adds that nowadays the popularity of green buildings is increasing because of marketing strategies. He resents the fact that many companies claim to be green for public image purposes, when in fact they are some of the highest-polluting corporations worldwide. This brings about the issue of certifications, which are used as a marketing tool and, in Picciotto’s opinion, are not as efficient as they claim to be. Although LEED certificates have several shortcomings, in his opinion, he believes these are better than having no certifications at all. Mexico could have its own certification system, says Picciotto, but this would require a leader with the ability to draft the requirements. “There is an excess of bureaucracy surrounding this subject and coordinating the different levels of the government would be very difficult. Mexico would probably need regional certification mechanisms.”
In Picciotto’s view, the construction industry has not been an important feature of the government’s agenda, as other factors such as energy security and protecting ecosystems have been the center of attention. “Take the Energy Reform, for example, which is at the forefront of the government’s priorities right now. The construction sector may not be high on the government’s agenda, but the changes in the Energy Reform will eventually trickle down the construction industry because of its significant energy consumption,” he explains. Picciotto finds that enforcement of normativity in the construction industry lacks coherence and consistency because too many players are involved.
Even though clients are now more familiar with sustainability, Picciotto claims they still believe green buildings are a luxury like intelligent buildings. “Clients do not see green buildings as a matter of design, but rather as a matter of electronics and certifications that require a considerable investment as an intelligent building would.” In Europe, he explains, legislation demands the construction of efficient buildings that can withstand extreme temperatures, while similar laws are lacking in Mexico. Picciotto Arquitectos promotes, among other things, bioclimatic architecture, which provides energy saving advantages because it ensures buildings have a mild temperature all year round. “Bioclimatic architecture is not a matter of technology; it is a matter of design, insulation, and the orientation of a building. These are elements our ancestors took into account when designing their buildings,” Picciotto asserts.
Bioclimatic architecture is proof that green buildings do not always require high performance, imported materials. “Suppliers sell green and sustainable elements, but many still do not really understand that the issue is design,” explains Picciotto adding that there are already enough foreign companies manufacturing their products in Mexico. Picciotto claims people follow trends blindly without taking into consideration the main goals of those trends.