Timon Singh

Frank Gehry Slams LEED, Calls Sustainable Design "Political"

by , 05/11/10

frank gehry, sustainable building, energy efficiency, leed, sustainable design, green design, green buildings, green architecture, sustainable architecture, eco design

However, Gehry is right in that it can be expensive. It was recently stated that in some countries, making the average family home more energy efficient can cost as much as $12,000. However, with CO2 emissions being cited as the main cause of global warming, we have to disagree that the costs of making buildings more eco-friendly aren’t paid back in our lifetime; not all costs, after all, are financial.

LEED certification is a more complicated issue though; if what Gehry says is true and merely having a bike rack classifies a building as being environmentally friendly then perhaps a rethink of some of the criteria is in order. Encouraging your staff to cycle to work is not the same as reducing the building’s emissions output and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design should address this as soon as possible.

Where do YOU stand on the issue? Is Gehry correct?

Via Chicago Tribune Cityscape blog

Related Posts


or your inhabitat account below

Let's make sure you're a real person:


  1. sayno2leed March 24, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    I took the LEED AP test today. I didn’t pass because I didnt remember how they charged their fees (by square ft, height…) and also because i didnt remember what size their logo should be in a letterhead. There were so many questions about fees and about how many consultants would “make things better” (in other words USGBC’s pockets) while not much else was given any importance. It was so disappointing people that have voice are taking advantage of the situation and make green building a thing about money. I wish there was someone that would stop USGBC’s exploitation of people truly concerned about the environment. I see so many people who want to learn more about helping the environment and make better choices but they cant get their properties certified because of LEED’s bureaucracy and hefty fees. Im so horrified LEED is still considered the leader of green building. With LEED’s guidance, this world will end up with more environmental damage because with their greed and idiocy they will make people not want to care about our planet anymore if they have to go thru LEED’s nonsense.

  2. nonleed October 28, 2010 at 8:14 am

    Political? Absolutely!
    Before you try to identify me as someone who is not concerned with the environment, allow me to state that I am concerned about:clean air, clean water, energy consumption and abuse of our landfills.

    The overall REAL agenda of LEED is control. The founders of the LEED process were (are) environmental activists – and yes, environmental activist lawyers.

    If you will look at the bios for some of these people, you will see that they support: global warming activism, no drilling on American soil, no refinery development and no nuclear power plant construction. As I said LEED is about control!

    The LEED idea resembles the old adage of the “fox in charge of the hen-house.” The people that are making the rules for LEED are generally NOT pro-construction in the first place. If you can noodle through the concept of LEED you should be able to resonably conclude that the real drive for LEED to become LAW.

    Whe LEED becomes LAW, then we will have building and zoning departments telling us what we can build, what size we can build it, where we can build it, how it is to be designed add on infinitum….

    Oh, mr. developer, business owner, architect, your design does not meet the LAW for LEED, so you can’t build. The cost of LEED construction coupled with the over-zealous requirements of LEED (read LAW)will be the death nail for the construction industry.

  3. Frank Gehry speaks out ... June 15, 2010 at 11:37 am

    [...] months ago, legendary American architect Frank Gehry ruffled many green feathers by declaring that green architecture and sustainable design are “political” and that LEED certification is often given for “bogus stuff”. His comments, [...]

  4. Sharon Perkins June 10, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    The LEED certification process provides design teams a practical economical path to construct buildings that are energy efficient, use less water, and cause less harm to the environment during and after construction than conventional methods of construction.
    Statements “adding a bike rack to a building does not make it an environmental building” and “the costs is far greater to build LEED certified” made by individuals who are considered experts in the field of design and construction, would make one think the whole process is bogus.

    What Gehry left out is the rest of the story for HOW bike racks are part of an integrated design that started from site selection, building orientation, and location connecting the buildings occupants to within walking distance of basic services, reducing the need to drive a car.

    Those “bike racks” have been installed to promote the use of bicycles. It allows those who want to take their bike to work to do so. The building has a place for your bike and there are facilities for showering and changing into work attire as well.

    The building is most likely within 1/2 mile of basic services; dry cleaner, restaurants, gym, post office to name a few, making walking a pleasant option for those who want to get personal errands done during the lunch break, or simply want to take a walk to a local spot for lunch. AND when a design team striving to reduce the amount of carbon generated by the building PLANNED for the installation of solar panels on the roof of covered bike racks, installed a green roof on the building, as well as provided preferred parking for LE/FE vehicles, making every effort to maximize carbon reduction, this then isn’t about politics and certifications its about being responsible for heavens sake.

    When one sees “bike racks” within 200 yards of an entrance to a LEED certified building that entire building was constructed to spew less carbon into the atmosphere than conventional buildings, use less energy, less water and provide its occupants a healthier atmosphere to live and/or work in.

    It’s unfortunate that this guy could get away with making a half assed assessment of the LEED certification process by alluding to bike racks as winning points as if installing them alone would accomplish LEED certification.

  5. 00SolarTJ May 20, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Gehry’s an over rated dinosaur who’s only claim to fame is adding frivolous excess to the buildings he “designs”. I don’t put much stock into what he has to say either way. The problem with virtually anything that involves cost these days is that our social and economic systems aren’t set up to factor in the true, long term, costs of goods and services. We still value growth for growth’s sake. We value short term gains over long term loses. We value money spent on flash and sizzle (i.e. wavy custom made windows and roof systems that Gehry does ad nauseum) over money spent on true value to the client and society (i.e. energy efficiency and sustainable goods and services). This guy can’t retire soon enough in my opinion.

  6. hbbb222 May 18, 2010 at 12:19 am

    I\’m not old, and I\’m not set in my ways. I would like to know however, how is locking yourself in an energy efficient/green house better than playing and working outside, not using an AC unit and being careful with your water usage. I\’m not trying to advocate a way of life, just remembering how mine started. My mother ran a whole house fan instead of fixing the HVAC. The air was fresh, the bills were low and I have no allergies. I do not want it to seem that I\’m trying to grandstand against \”green\” building, however I would like to know the advantages versus the last generation of living. I am in the southeast, so this is a \”climate controlled\” argument so to speak.

  7. hesus May 16, 2010 at 11:43 am

    This is what happens when you’re OLD and set in your ways and you’re having a hard time catching up with the changing world all around you. LEED may not be perfect but we have to start somewhere. It’s better being a political issue than nothing at all. I find eating cumbersome but I eat anyway so I can live. Frankly I don’t understand how Frank go his fame because some of his works are just so fugly and pretentious!

  8. SeelineDesign May 14, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    This is an issue that I’m pretty sure most people are aware of. It’s just kind of sad that this reaction has to be made by a ‘celebrity’ in order to provoke any response. My thoughts are that Gehry is making this statement, not just to condemn the LEED certification process, but to force it to evolve. It’s not that LEED is bad, it’s just that it’s in its infancy and needs some foul language in order to force it to get better. Let’s hope for some growth from the industry.

  9. ds May 14, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    I’s most amazing that abut every topic brings me to think of the financial system that blocks investment in energy savings because you get more out of your money by investing it elsewhere.
    In other words the money you spend now will not buy the btu you need tomorrow because the savings have to compete with both, inflation AND interest rates.
    The savings due to efficiency you’ll do in twenty years go against 20 years of basic interest rate. So far.
    Yes, if heating cost was bundled with the selling price (suggested by Amory Lovins) things would still look much better for efficiency.
    Now all this was off topic for he only was to say that …
    they don’t look very nice. I generally think we should make ourselves bee seen much less but when I see efficient houses my poor old heart rejoices.

  10. sustainablelaguna May 14, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Building sustainably is a somewhat new practice to most developers and contractors. The USGBC’s LEED certification processes are a great way for developers and contractors to learn sustainable practices through a guided point system. Many cities are adopting green building codes, which is wonderful, but little or no knowledge on how to implement practices will drive some professionals out of business. Some argue that LEED may limit sustainable design but I think the bigger problem is the actual number of overwhelmed professionals that need guidance on making the health of the environment a large priority in their projects.

  11. sustainablelaguna May 14, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Building sustainably is a somewhat new practice to most developers and contractors. The USGBC’s LEED certification processes are a great way for developers, architects and contractors to learn sustainable practices through a guided point system. Many cities are adopting green building codes (which is wonderful and should be done everywhere) but truthfully little or no knowledge on how to implement practices will drive a lot professionals out of business. Some argue that LEED may limit sustainable design but I think the bigger problem is the number of overwhelmed professionals that do need some guidance on sustainable practices and principles.

  12. marminio May 13, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    The bikerack argument was addressed in the newest version of
    LEED 2009. More points are awarded to energy efficiency and regional specific credits were added. I think the rating system is moving in the right direction, and the truth is that if you do not pursue green building certification, there is no accountability or measure for how green your project is. LEED helps to maintain focus on sustainability throughout the process.

    Besides, every new version of LEED has a comment and review period, so rather than bad-mouthing LEED, you could be spending your energy productively with suggestions on how to improve it.

  13. snodaisy May 13, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    LEED is a political monster, as evil as any. Strive to make buildings the best they can be. Do not rely on one, self-imposed entity to be paid to judge your work. There is zero accountability in LEED’s decision making.
    Frank Gehry’s my hero!

  14. psconrad May 13, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Frank Gehry is sounding like a cranky old man. The \”politics\” of the issue is actually the force behind a much needed change in our attitude towards Earth itself. Bike racks aren\’t \”bogus\” just because they don\’t have much of a quantifiable financial payback. Many of the things that are being thought about these days concern the ignored real costs of the way that things have been done in the past. Such costs can remain invisible unless our minds are in the right place to recognaize what they are. Sometimes the realization is the result of a catastrophe, like the Gulf oil \”leak.\” As far as I\’m concerned, even in the face of the big things, every little bit counts.

  15. brenbe May 13, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    before leed we would not be having this conversation. leed has made it public. 99% of people who criticise leed as being \’all about products and fluff\’ or who say it does not address true energy efficiency or that it is \’outrageously expensive\’ have never fully explored the program, especially the program as it stands today with many revisions/growth over time. *Every Single* one of the criticisms that have been levelelled at Leed about how it doesn\’t do enough, people still leave lights on, it is possible to manipulate points, etc. fail to take into account that it *is a huge improvement over nothing* and taking steps is better than sitting on your behind as someone so aptly put it above. i actually love gehry\’s work and i love beauty and aesthetics and taking chances etc etc and it IS possible to do all this within the framework of leed. it is equally possible to build a boring leed building that simply haggles over points. so what. what percentage of buildings are boring and non-energy and resource efficient? taking steps vs. taking no steps – where do you stand. the improvements in leed continually address failings with the system. and, the leed rating system is driving the increases in efficiency, etc. requirements at the building regulations level. all this jazz about oh, bamboo is bad because it comes from far away, etc…. there are leed points obtainable for materials nearby (less than 500miles for all aspects of production). people are going to use all kinds of materials from all over the world with or without leed, give me a break and stop being so holier than thou. everything we do has an impact and unless you want to live in a cave you\’ll stop criticising and either applaud those who are making a difference or at least get out of their way. gehry is not a young man. he is not always right. his remarks may have not been entirely in the context of his beliefs but he should retract them and get with the program. but the next gehry will be a young man or woman who grew up with leed and will be able to take adventurous chances within the framework of greater sustainability.

  16. Studearch May 13, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    I agree whole-heartedly with Gehry. Green building adds costs, but has benefit. LEED certification adds more costs and is arbitrary. Those costs must be borne by somebody and architecture is already a profession of low economc return with tremendous liability. The foundation of LEED (energy conservation, sustainability, etc.) is all worthy; it\’s the burden of certifying, tracking, recording, in pursuit of a plaque and more initials after your name that\’s troubling to me. All of the tenets of LEED are things we architects should have been doing all along. I look to post-WWII and Korean War architecture to provide inspiration in ways of using minimal materials and labor to produce maximum space and effects. Both of these eras were times of shortages. We used the best technology of the time and reduced the size and volumes to meet budgets. I continue to see LEED \”certified architects\” turning out irresponsible, wasteful, and frankly ugly designs – at least the one\’s that still have jobs and projects.

  17. Prelitz May 13, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Having done net-zero and LEED projects, I agree with Gehry. The challenge with LEED is that it is a MEASUREMENT tool NOT a DESIGN tool. It’s also not very climate specific. A design team can do a great sustainable design then add up the points and obtain a plaque..unfortunately, “We need 2 more points to get Gold” tends to be a common problem. It’s about wholistic design principles that embrace passive solar first – then the minimum mechanical systems needed. Thta’s not emphasized

  18. CLIFF CHANDLER May 13, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    I have been a critic of LEED for a long time. I is good to see someone else get after the prima donna architect run political institution.

    Look at LEED architect designed buildings and the monster size of their buildings. They waste space and use far more materials than needed to build them. The other joke is using materials that are supposed to be manufactured near the site location. Where does bamboo come from?

    The fed’s and LEED need to work together and get ceiling fans, CFLs / LED lighting and other materials made here in the USA and stop using materials / products made outside or put-together outside of our country. How many photovoltaic panels are made entirely here in the USA? How about none.

    Architects, please get your heads out of your nether regions and stop being so pompous.

  19. Not the King May 13, 2010 at 10:00 am

    Testeffe – there is a reason why LEED is called a Green Building Rating system, it looks at BUILDINGS, not our bad habits. It provides some of the tools that we need to try to live better – the buildings in which we operate. Having worked in LEED for the better part of 10 years, I am the first to say that it is far from perfect and likely does not manage to measure what we can truly do now, but are you saying that attempts to reduce our footprint by things we can control (the built environment) should be abandoned because people still insist on oversized houses, vehicles, and possessions? Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water…

  20. joeholmes May 12, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    Your article is very misleading. It seems to have been carefully written to create controversy. I doubt an architect with the prestige of Frank Gehry would say such nonsense. He is obviously in favor of green design but against an organization that works as a money machine. What do you get from them? – A plaque at the entrance of the building. Have you seen how horrendous the majority of the “LEED” certified buildings are? Green design is a moral attitude towards our cities and planet, not a certificate to show around. It has definitely become an advertising apparatus and a political platform. This is an example of zero journalistic experience, evident in the majority of the blogs where gossip is treated as fact. Where in the world is your fact checker? Obviously not on your payroll!

  21. zachrose May 12, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    WOW! I am surprised at how much everyone seems to hate LEED. I am going to take a little tangent here and see what we can’t stir up…

    For those naysayers interested in learning about the benefits of bike racks (since that seems to be a recurring concept in this thread), here’s an interesting web page for you:


    Bike racks may only cost in the range of $250 but they have far-reaching environmental benefits. It’s this close-mindedness that frustrates me; we have to look beyond the price tag on a design feature and think deeper…installing bike racks encourages people to use bikes, which discourages them to use cars, which helps the environment due to reduced carbon emissions. Let’s try that a different way…installing bike racks encourages people to use their legs (crazy, i know), which reduces the time they sit on their behinds, which makes them less likely to be OBESE. A stretch and slightly off topic, but get out of your boxes people! And before I get slammed for talking about overweight people, there are studies that prove the environmental benefits of food for fuel versus gas for fuel, so simmer down over there.

    Back to the topic at hand for some more ranting. The very person preaching how expensive sustainable design is the same one who got sued for $300 million for crap design at MIT! So is that to say that it’s not OK to invest in proven technologies to help the environment but designing dead fish at the Clients’ expense is acceptable? (FYI, they settled out of court for an undisclosed amount 3 years later)

    Ghery makes some of the leakiest structures in the world; sure they look SUPER NEAT in arch record but what’s the R value of a fish scale wall assembly that leaks? A big fat ZERO.

  22. jp_arc May 12, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    Please stop this nonsense. We are still saying LEED is useless/arbitrary/bogus because of the bike rack credit? That argument is so 1996 (as is Gehry for that matter). Yes, there is a point available to add a number of bike racks and showers based on occupancy of the building. If one bike rack means that one less car is driven two and from work for a five day work week, over the course of the year, consider how much gas and CO2 emissions that offsets. Now please reevaluate the impact of a bike rack. Just because its easy to do, doesn’t make it less sustainable. Sustainability is not just about the building, but the extended radius of the occupants of that building and their effective footprints. Still, we all agree that the most important measure is energy efficiency, there are up to 19 points available for energy efficiency measures (Wbrook) and up to 5 points for innovation (WMC). LEED started from a few people in a room with an idea and grew into a global standard that has transformed the construction market. Even with the room for improvement that does exist, what else can you say has done that? And the energy codes that are being considered by states all over are based on ASHRAE 90.1 standard, which LEED made relevant as it is the energy standard that LEED uses to measure efficiency. As the energy codes evolve, so will LEED, always pushing to a better standard in order to be better than the pack (fultoff). The whole point was to change to market. It has done that and now GBCI has gone through an in depth internal LCA, which refocuses the credits in the 2009 versions (dwight). While the motivation to have a LEED project may reside on PR and marketing, at least there is now a system that breaks the ice with developers and gets them to consider the environment, a conversation topic that rarely existed before. Unfortunately, the smartest argument anyone can make is how will it save money. And after working on dozens of LEED projects, from start to finish, I can say it does save money, it does improve the profession of design, which was once riddled with extravagant formalistic indulgences. A PV array that will provide my building carbon neutral power for at least 30 years, or a curvy facade that leaks? I apologize for the lengthy response, but while greenwashing is dangerous for us all, and there are certainly those who will work any system for its loop holes, it is important to really know about a process before criticizing it, especially one like LEED, that has added true measurable value.

  23. testeffe May 12, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    LEED certification isn’t worth the cost of the plaque on the door if every company and person in the building is also committed to the program. I have driven by a LEED building a 2:00 AM with every light in the building on. How many points should be deducted for that. If the pompous butthead in the corner office thinks everybody works better in a suit and tie resulting in the AC being turned down 2 more degrees to may it liveable, maybe 2 points should be deducted. If the LEED cert is only used as a badge of honor and is not ingrained in the people in the building, then it is just another building with a fancy plaque.

  24. Dwight Yochim May 12, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    The intent of LEED is good, the delivery is questionable. There should be more reliance on science to determine if a building and the products that go into it are green, or not. A point chasing system results in decisions that may not necessarily be green, such as choosing steel with some recycled content over wood that may have been harvested right next to the building but not be FSC certified. LEED should incorporate Life Cycle Assessment into its system. That way the full impact of a product on the environment can be measured and known.

    Also, if LEED requires third party certification of one product, such as wood, it should require third party certification of all products, such as concrete and steel. If ecological, social and economic impacts of a product are deemed important for one product why aren’t they important for all?

    LEED isn’t perfect but it has at the very least got people talking and considering how to determine if a building really is green or not, and not just by the number of points you might be able to chase.

  25. philip proefrock May 12, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Frank Gehry does not oppose the goals of energy efficiency in architecture—he says he’s been a supporter of green building since before there was an Earth Day. Rather, he was criticizing the way LEED status has been “fetishized” by architects. “It’s like if you wear the American flag on your lapel, you’re an American. …That’s what I was trying to say,” Gehry told Arndt. “You get people who are holier than thou.”


  26. sickspeed May 12, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    I am reasonably sure that Gehry is not against the environment or sustainable design. Having worked with his firm and met him many times, I can tell you that he believes in smart and innovative design and that is “issue” is probably more with the LEED system and the politics attached to it than with good design. Don’t be so quick to assume someone is anti-environment just because they may not fully buy in to some of the greenwashing that is rampant as of late.

  27. Not the King May 12, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Frank Gehry talking about needless cost? That is the cornerstone of his spatially, functionally, and materially inefficient ‘lumps’. How many clients has he caused to go bankrupt by his fantasy world? He was better off selling green to them…

  28. fultoff May 12, 2010 at 8:59 am

    Its perfectly fair to say, “A lot of LEED is given for bogus stuff.” Its important energy efficiency standards make up a very small portion of its point system. Those energy efficiency standards will very likely become a standard in US building codes soon, and I can only see LEED becoming less and less relevant as a standard for sustainable construction. Also, the tens of thousands of dollars that are directly spent on the fees for a LEED certification building could be better spent on real building technologies that conserve energy.

  29. WMC May 12, 2010 at 12:08 am

    i havent shelled out the 550 CDN for a LEED AP behind my name but i am well versed in it and appreciate its existence. LEED isnt perfect and misses the boat for the most part, but then again so does its target audience. LEED is for the construction/developer dinosaurs who only see costs in immediate $$$. To most; if it isnt marketable or cheaper/less expensive then it isnt worth doing.

    1 point for a bike rack and a shower vs. 1 point for a chiller/any of the other variety of cost intensive credits isnt seem equitable on the balance sheet but are both important aspects for a building. additionally, they say the easiest dollar to save is the first dollar. Meaning, why not rack up the points on the small stuff first? there is still no way you will get leed gold without that chiller.

    My problem with LEED is it doesnt give enough credits for innovation… there is one credit and it is the last one in the book. Also, much of LEED depends on active environmental systems that are tech heavy and therefore expensive. These new-fangled green designs are little more than rehashes of indigenous building design from around the world. Green roofs were first used in north america at l’Anse aux Meadows by the Norse.

    for me LEED needs more credits for the less expensive and equally as efficient passive systems.


  30. daneabroad May 11, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Thank you Frank Gehry! Good that somebody finally starts to use their brains.

  31. greenshouldbeforeveryone May 11, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    LEED certification of buildings and accreditation of professionals is a money making scheme by the USGBC and GBCI. Building professionals should demand environmental design be written into the building codes. If USGBC/GBCI really cared about sustainable design they should focus their efforts on working with local and national governments towards making the building codes more green, not their own pocketbooks.

  32. d silent man May 11, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    i cant agree with ‘sustainable design is political’, however ‘LEED’ seems could be more potential to be political. The problem with ‘sustainable design’ is that most people think its all about the natural environment, but its not. It suppose to consider the whole, environmental, social and economical aspect. the balance of these aspects make the most sustainable design. Its a conceptual thinking, utopia, make impossible perfection in practice, but pushing design towards it, is sure a good thing.

  33. WBrooke May 11, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    I am also a LEED certified engineer. If Frank Gehry isn’t so hot on the idea of global warming (pun intended!), then there are economic reasons for designing energy efficient (ie LEED) buildings. Buildings are energy hogs. An office tower can spend millions on heating and cooling energy in a year. Current practice is for developers to put a simple boiler and a bad chiller in a building to minimize first costs, but then the building owner is stuck with high utility bills. The problem is that the building developer is not the same company as the building owner and they have no incentive to put in expensive energy efficient equipment, even though there are benefits to be had in the operation of the equipment. I think a LEED plaque on the front of the building offers incentive to the developers to be concious of green design, if only because they can get a higher price when they are selling the building.

    However, I agree with the silliness of some LEED points. A bike rack costs $100 to install, and a super efficient centrifugal chiller on magnetic bearings costs $250,000…each will get you a LEED point. Which one do you think gets done?

  34. ramartin May 11, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    The LEED point system is arbitrary. LEED’s success is the cultural and industrial revolution that it has spurned. It is effective because it takes a contested term “sustainability” and provides designers with a concrete center of discussion.

  35. sickspeed May 11, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    As a LEED certified engineer, i can see some bogus points being awarded but overall the intent of the LEED system is good. Its good engineering practices to design efficient buildings. The politics involved with these issues have certainly resulted in some bogus credits getting added in as well as others being left out. And the fact that global warming and the impact of CO2 is not fulling embraced ought to tell you something. Its not so much that people who disagree or debate it are bad, its that those responsible for making their case haven’t done such a good job themselves.

  • Read Inhabitat

  • Search Categories

  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

  • Browse by Keyword

get the free Inhabitat newsletter

Submit this form
popular today
all time
most commented
more popular stories >
more popular stories >
more popular stories >
What are you looking for? (Solar, HVAC, etc.)
Where are you located?