Frank Gehry Starts Architectural Bunfight with Comments on LEED and Green Building



Frank Gehry is often a provocative old curmudgeon. Blair Kamin quoted him speaking last month in Chicago, criticizing green building and LEED:

When Pritzker asked Gehry about energy-saving green architecture and global warming, the architect did not exactly warm to the topic. "I think the issue is finally a political one," Gehy said.

Kamin continues quoting Gehry:

"I think the issue is finally a political one," Gehry said. Referring to the LEED (for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system for buildings, which awards points for energy-saving features but has been criticized because some of these features (like bike racks) are superficial add-ons, Gehry said: "A lot of LEED is given for bogus stuff." The costs of making a green building are "enormous," he said, and "they don't pay back in your lifetime."


Susan S. Szenasy was not impressed, and wrote You Are So Wrong, Frank Gehry!

She writes:

With buildings known to produce more than half of the world's carbon output, surely those who design and build them have to shoulder some responsibility. But not, apparently, Gehry. He cavalierly called out LEED ratings (and thus the many efforts made every day by architects and designers to make our world less toxic, use available energy and water more carefully, pay mind to the site and its proximity to public transit, etc. ) as "political" and "bogus." This is unfortunate for everyone concerned, and everyone must be concerned. But I'm not surprised, though I am saddened no end.

Now Fred Bernstein, architecture writer and critic (often in the New York Times), chimes in the ArchNewsNow to support Frank and criticize Susan, saying:

Susan, I love and admire you. But I think you are wrong about Frank Gehry.

Bernstein turns the discussion as an opportunity to call call LEED greenwashing, which it certainly is in his example :

One example is CityCenter, the Las Vegas complex that contains more than 5,000 hotel rooms, plus casinos and shopping malls and restaurants and nightclubs - altogether, 18 million air-conditioned square feet smack in the middle of the Mojave Desert. I can't imagine a greater environmental disaster than this complex (which, in addition to requiring vast resources to build and operate, is designed to draw travelers from around the world). And yet it was awarded LEED Gold status.

Bernstein has a thing about points systems; he doesn't like LEED or Berkeley's green standard, which he criticized in his drive-by shooting of Mitch Kapor's house and agrees with Gehry, who said

"A lot of LEED is given for bogus stuff." Everyone who has analyzed the point system, well-intentioned as it is, agrees with him.

Now I have to respond to Fred and say sorry, but you are wrong about Susan. She isn't talking about LEED; her point is that architects should take responsibility for doing something about climate change. Frank thinks climate change is political; she thinks it is real. It is easy to criticize LEED; I do it all the time. But a lot of criticism of LEED is really thinly covered climate change denial.

LEED is grossly misused and Bernstein picks a great example in Las Vegas. But that doesn't make Susan wrong or let Frank Gehry off the hook.

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