Author Talk: Green Building Illustrated

At Urban Green’s recent Author Talk, illustrator Frank Ching and green building leader Ian Shapiro discussed their new book, Green Building Illustrated. Ching, an artist, author, architect, and professor, has influenced the majority of American architects since the early 1970’s. Shapiro, a longtime innovator in the sustainable building industry, is the founder and chairman of Taitem Engineering (short for “Technology As If The Earth Mattered”).

The book provides an overview to readers ranging from green building novices to practicing sustainability professionals. It accomplishes this by coupling Ching’s hallmark illustrations with Shapiro’s decades of green building experience.

The partnership for Green Building Illustrated began, as Shapiro puts it, as “a chance encounter.” Shapiro found one of Ching’s earlier books, Architectural Graphics, in a small bookstore, setting in motion a collaboration that wouldn’t become reality until decades later. “From Ching’s early books I learned to always draw people in relaxed poses,” says Shapiro, “because then the people looking at the drawings will be relaxed.”

In front a packed room of roughly 50 designers, architects, and environmentalists at the Trespa Design Center, Ching joked about how Shapiro’s initial request to draw around 25 illustrations for the book quickly snowballed into roughly 500 by the time the book went to print. The artwork for this project represented a departure for Ching from his traditional style of creating his drawings by hand, choosing instead to draft the graphics digitally. Ching mentioned that the digital route was selected simply because it made the editing process easier.

Beyond their discussion of the writing and illustration process for the project, the authors also shared their thoughts on the importance of location context and building design. Ching mentioned he felt that, too often, buildings ignore the unique context of their location and attempt to be sustainable by adding “green” Band-Aids. “We should be designing buildings to perform well in their geographical context and green them in the process,” Ching said. “A building designed for Seattle should not be replicated in New Mexico.”

One of the factors to consider early in the design phase is to minimize surface area of a building in order to reduce heating and cooling needs, say the authors. Shapiro pointed out that high ceilings increase the volume of air that needs to be conditioned, which requires larger HVAC equipment. By minimizing exterior area and interior volume, he added, we can reduce equipment size and energy cost.

While much of the discussion covered the technical aspects of green building, Shapiro closed the talk with a quote that was frank and inspirational: “The urgency for reducing climate emissions is too great. We must take our collective experience and use it toward making green design a part of all design.”