Timon Singh

Frank Gehry Defends His Criticism of LEED

by , 06/15/10

sustainable design, green design, frank gehry, leed certification, green building, sustainable architecture, energy efficient building

A few 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, unsurprisingly, provoked quite a reaction in the world of sustainable design — especially when he told Bloomberg Businessweek that green building had become “fetishized” like “wearing an American flag pin”. This week, Need to Know, a new current affairs show and online news magazine on PBS, sat down with Frank Gehry to speak to him about the LEED controversy and ask what he “really thinks about green building, the LEED certification process and the future of sustainable architecture”.

sustainable design, green design, frank gehry, leed certification, green building, sustainable architecture, energy efficient building

While the LEED system may have its flaws, there is no doubt that it has led to businesses investing in green design and making companies care more about their carbon footprint — something that is increasingly important to politicians as well as the public. In the interview, Mr Gehry states how surprised he was by the negative reactions to his comments about LEED saying, “I wasn’t saying what they reported I said. I never said I was opposed to the LEED program or to green building — I’m not.”

“I think [global warming] is a crisis, we’re led to believe that by our scientists who seem to have a pretty good idea of what’s going on, so we have to address it if we want to survive on this planet. Of course there are also some people making hay out of it and using the issue for financial gain, but green building is clearly something architects need to be concerned with.” When pressed about how the LEED program was a way to encourage such design, Gehry said, “It is, but it’s one way among many. A lot of our clients don’t apply for the LEED certification because it’s complicated and in their view, they simply don’t need it.”

“There are other ways to encourage green building. For example, we did the Novartis building in Switzerland.” “They don’t use the LEED program over there, the government just says this is what you can and can’t do, and things have to be built in a sustainable way. So really it’s a political thing: People taking responsibility on an individual level combined with government programs that give mandates that say “this is how we’re going to require people to build.”

“Our federal government is trying to take steps in that direction. I just met with someone from the Obama administration, they are trying to enact tougher standards, but they’re having some trouble.” It seems that while Mr Gehry supports the idea of sustainable development and renewable design, he is wary of groups and organizations that use the ‘green brand’ for their own purposes… and that is a legitimate concern that we should all be aware of.

+ Full Frank Gehry Interview on Need To Know

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9 Comments

  1. rlabuhn November 6, 2010 at 8:45 am

    I am a school administrator who has opened two new campuses in the past 4 years. I am also defending my dissertation next week that studied four LEED Gold certified elementary schools in the United States. What I learned in my study is that LEED has become the industry standard in green building and the USGBC has been extremely successful in mandating LEED in future federal construction projects. Their certification standard is written into federal and state legislation. LEED is definitely political, but it has furthered the causes of sustainable building and resource conservation that I applaud. My chief concern is the research that the USGBC and numerous architectural firms rely upon to bolster green building. Proponents claim that green schools improve test scores and attendance rates. My research did not support these claims. In fact, the four LEED schools in my study were significantly outperformed on state standardized tests of reading and mathematics. LEED is not going away and the system has enjoyed exponential growth in the past decade. I would like to see green building justified through empirical scientific studies, though. The merits of sustainable design and construction are obvious and do not need further justification based on limited research and questionable results.

  2. palaver July 15, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    @doveslanding Wow, that\’s some hubris there. The \’ultimate authority\’ on the built environment huh? At least the ego of the architect is alive and well.

  3. Producer June 24, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    \\\\\\\”i cant find numbers for commercial construction\\\\\\\”

    There are currently 24,791 registered projects – that\\\\\\\’s in addition to the 5,911 certified which does not include the certified projects homes directory – which is 6,500 more.

    That\\\\\\\’s all from the same place (USGBC website)

  4. Quint June 24, 2010 at 10:52 am

    A Standard that is so successful?

    On the Leed website it says there are 5911 leed certified projects, and 6378 Leed for homes certified units.

    The us census says 582,963 residential units were constructed in 2009….so leed for homes has a almost 1.1% market share if all of them were built in 2009….

    i cant find numbers for commercial construction…. but I think we need more than 1% of homes to be sustainable.

  5. SOM and Frank Gehry Tea... June 21, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    [...] iconic Inland Steel Building is set to undergo an eco renovation courtesy of SOM and Frank Gehry, who is part of the development team. In light of some of Gehry’s recent comments about LEED, [...]

  6. Producer June 21, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Gehry is using circular logic – the Federal Government (the GSA) does have a standard – and it is LEED. (That’s LEED, not “LEEDS”.)
    So someone says they built a sustainable building, and we just take their word for it without third-party verification? Sure – right – along with their word that it is a fool-proof blowout preventer.
    I think there is a lot of professional jealousy that a third party (USGBC) could develop and implement a standard so successfully, worldwide, gaining voluntary compliance.
    BTW – Gehry ought to pay more attention to his designs – MIT was less than impressed – leaky and over-budget – they sued him.
    Lost in the Funhouse = http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/122/lost-in-the-funhouse.html

  7. doveslanding June 19, 2010 at 8:41 am

    Mr.Gehry shows his wisdom and concern for not only our profession but the context in which it is practiced. His good examples are reminders to non-architects that architects both know and practice responsible design. We can and do self-administer green/LEED concerns well before there were such chliches. As the doctors are the ultimate authority in medicine so are we about the built environment.

  8. mikearch June 16, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    As a Registered Architect I agree with most of Frank Gehry’s comments. You want to “Legislate” these standards? Then make them part of the ever growing Code Industry in America. Do they add value to the Building? Yes they do, but when you factor the cost of the record keeping and see how much it adds to the cost, many clients ease off and reconsider compliance.

  9. kirsti June 15, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    “So really it’s a political thing: People taking responsibility on an individual level combined with government programs that give mandates that say “this is how we’re going to require people to build.”

    I think this is the important point. Yes, LEEDS can seem, bureaucratic and yes, there are many other ways to build green and sustainably as Gehry points out. The point is, we need to see LEEDS perhaps as a point or mechanism for commitment for those who need a formal structure in which to justify green and sustainable design. It becomes an argument of sorts, hence Gehry\’s point about it being political. An argument and a mechanism to justify to those who don\’t believe or who disagree that we need to do whatever we can to ameliorate our ongoing environmental crisis.

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