Rendez-vous with Monsieur Green

“I am learning that if I just go on accepting the framework for life that others have given me…I will be unable to recognize that which I have the power to change.” – Liv Ullmann

This opening quote in chapter 2 of A-P & Al Hurd’s book The Carbon Efficient City is a great reminder to us all: to not simply live passively when we only have one life to live (not to be confused with the soap opera).

I am reminded of a chat that a group of us in the UW Masters of Architecture program had with Michael Green in Vancouver about his work with heavy timber and specifically CLT (cross laminated timber). A link to his website and TED talk are given below.

Besides the cool presentation he gave us, the beers we intimately enjoyed together, and listening about his adventures looking for Ernest Shackleton’s wrecked ship (you could say many of us had a man crush on him…ahem Reed and Anders…ahem), one of the things that resonated with me most was his advice that went something like this…”If you want to get something done, go for it and make the change you want to see, why not? We only have one life.” Ok, so he probably said something a little more eloquent, but you get the idea.

What Michael Green saw was a underlying framework that was burgeoning in Canada with their massive amounts of timber and relatively flexible building codes. There is a problem within sustainability, building our cities as we currently do, and Monsieur Green saw a solution to at least a sector of the industry in CLT. In his co-authored feasibility study  The Case for Tall Wood Buildings contends, “To slow and contain greenhouse gas emissions and find truly sustainable solutions to building, we must look at the fundamentals of the way we build – from the bones of large urban building structures to the details of energy performance. We need to search for the big picture solutions of today’s vast climate, environmental, economic and world housing needs” (Archdaily). Michael (we are on a first name basis I believe) wasn’t satisfied with our current solutions and started to deliberate, a journey driven by passion and his two kids, a dream that he realized because he simply wanted to see it done, and why shouldn’t he be the one to do it?

So what I propose is that our education, like this class, emphasize creative solutions and problem solving that understands rules are meant to be broken, codes are meant to change, constitutions are meant to be updated with experience, and so on. Learn the rules (basically all that is taught in education) and then find out how to navigate them to allow for innovation. Too many times we hear that it isn’t possible, it’s too expensive, etc. This is as much your reality as it is anyone else’s, at least try to do what you want to see done.


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