The architecture firm Cook+Fox is responsible for the Bank of America Tower, which is no ordinary glass and steel megalith, but according to Bank of America “one of the world’s most environmentally responsible high-rise office buildings.” In a recent video interview with the New Yorker, architect Richard Cook promoted the hell out of his baby, touting its L.E.E.D. Platinum certification, and the care with which the tower was crafted with a savory blend of high-brow aesthetic concept, and novel energy saving technology.
Cook does a good job of describing the challenges of sustainable building, but he makes a simple point which verges from reality. When Cook says L.E.E.D. standards are “Far and away, nothing else even close, the best standard we have currently,” he is overstating. It could be true if you consider “best” to be just the most widely adopted standard, or the standard that will make it the easiest to get tax incentives at the municipal, state, and federal level. But if sustainable building is about saving energy, and buildings take up the largest share of America’s energy expenditure, L.E.E.D. is not the best. It might not be much at all.
Until last year, L.E.E.D. didn’t even measure the actual performance of buildings. And it’s not like L.E.E.D. is the only game in town. There are other standards like Passive House, which actually account for building performance and strive for carbon neutrality. It’s just that L.E.E.D. is more lucrative. If Cook really wants to prove his building is worth all the fawning mental acrobatics, all he needs to do is make the energy bills public, and let them be compared to similar buildings. Not so difficult, but if the first decade of L.E.E.D is any indication, not so likely. Chances are we’re being led astray.