“We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” --Winston Churchill, 1943
By Dick Williams, LEED AP BD+C, Episcopal
Starting my work career back in the late 1970s, I recall inoperable windows becoming commonplace in many buildings. They were a symbol of the times—outdoor air becoming dirtier by the decade. And, in urban areas, I believe, they reflected fear that emerged from the riots of the late 1960s. Today, with the effects of environmental degradation well documented, comes the question of how we begin a reset through environmental stewardship. What do our existing buildings say about us and how do we build new or renovate?
Environmental stewardship, for me, is a part of my Christian witness. Increasingly I’ve come to realize that it’s my calling to help protect and restore God’s Creation—for all of us. So to be able to live my business life as a sustainable design consultant who assists in the delivery of “healthy” LEED-certified buildings is indeed a blessing.
What’s LEED, you might wonder? Standing for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, LEED denotes a voluntary 3rd-party sustainable building rating system which standards are typically more rigorous and extensive than municipal codes.
St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church needed a new Formation (education) building on campus, but the parish didn’t want the teaching to only take place in the meeting rooms and classrooms. They wanted the whole building to teach. They wanted the building and minimal land use to say something about them as a whole. As Senior Warden Anne Sessions recalls: “We found a need for environmentally clean and healthy learning spaces, but building for the sake of just building didn’t satisfy a congregation that believes environmental stewardship is our direct responsibility. We hope that by building to a LEED certification, we lead by example.” Heading the church’s Environmental Missions Committee, Al Todd, an environmental leader in Chesapeake Bay issues, added: "Our land and buildings are a very visible and tangible part of who we are as a community of faith and spirit. Demonstrating harmony with Creation just strengthens that sense of community. But it does not always just happen, it takes commitment and hard work."
In the summer of 2012, the St. Margaret’s building committee began discussing the goal of having the building LEED certified. At the time, I was a parishioner (relocating more recently to Baltimore) and I eventually competed for the chance to guide the LEED certification effort for the parish. As part of my proposal, I offered to write a blog for the church’s electronic news platforms from my firm’s website, www.dwgreenassociates.com. The aim was to enhance fundraising and environmental awareness by discussing all sorts of green ideas and strategies. You see, our buildings and land, can do much more than happen rather messily. They can inspire…and shape us.
Over time, a collaborative solution evolved to construct a new, 2-story building on vacant land next to the 1970s parish hall and connect the two. Construction began in November 2014 and in January of 2016 I accepted the LEED® Silver Certification on behalf of St. Margaret’s. Several weeks later the project was awarded the People’s Choice by over 270 attendees of the Maryland chapter of the U. S. Green Building Council’s Wintergreen Awards event for the best sustainably-designed buildings in Maryland in 2015.
I’ve found great personal satisfaction in knowing my professional commitment to sustainable building design and construction helped envision and guide the journey that St. Margaret’s parishioners took … as did Anne, Al and countless others who drove the idea of a more environmentally-harmonious building. A contributing element, not so small actually, was the … green … inserts in the weekly Sunday bulletins about the funding and building processes, devised by the communication committee. One in particular that I cherish was offered regularly:
Our Prayer for the Process (excerpted):
In nearly every meeting I attended of the various building committees for more than three years, opening and a closing prayers were offered, often by me. So, the resulting achievement, a healthy, high-performance Formation Building of beautiful, contextual design, was not a complete surprise. Rather, it was an answered prayer!