With ICF influencing architects in sustainable design, homes and developments are now capable of bridging creative gaps while still achieving many benefits. Functional requirements, cost efficiency, and unique aesthetics all need to be present in today’s architectural design. The utilization of Insulated Concrete Forms and their innovative shapes and designs allows all of these elements to be achieved. Laurie C. Fisher Architects and Gaus Architects are two amazing firms Forming Solutions works with. Both firms have inspired the push for beauty in architecture that utilizes sustainable building materials and they both have inspired us to sit down and ask them a few questions about their processes.
Laurie C. Fisher is a multiple award winning architect not just in design but also in sustainability, receiving an ICF Builders Award for one of her recently completed projects in Poway, CA. Fisher’s aspirations in the architectural industry include designing buildings and the spaces within them that actually shape our lives and our world. She makes a great effort to incorporate people’s personal desires in worldly elegance and environmental concern into the design of their homes while keeping in mind the requirements of functionality.
Herta Gaus is an expert in high performance educational facilities and is well rounded in all aspects of design. Born with a passion for creating and improving spaces where people can flourish, she conveys her talent with professional credibility and effectiveness, while always maintaining concerns of ecological responsibility and social awareness. Awarded with many accolades and publications, Gaus presents a more serious aesthetic in architecture. Or as some might say, a “Pursuit of Truth” (In Pursuit of Truth | A Journal of Christian Scholarship. C.S. Lewis Foundation, 28 Sept. 2007. Web. 21 Feb. 2017).
We sat down and discussed ideas about sustainable design, where they see the industry now and where they believe it may be going in the future with both of these outstanding architects. Because Gaus and Fisher are both LEED accredited architects, we wanted to hear their perspective on how this growth in alternative building materials has influenced them and their careers.
Forming Solutions: What style of architecture would you say is your forte?
Fisher: Frank Lloyd Wright is a great aspiration however I don’t have a “style” per say, I base all my designs on solid geometry, classic proportions, and a custom response to environment and user requirements. It is important that my designs are elegant and efficient; elements always solve more than one problem.
Gaus: Nature defines my aspirations, not having a particular style exactly, I’m usually influenced in each project by its uniqueness and requirement in its own style.
Forming Solutions: As we remember Zaha Hadid this last year, did she have any influence on you and why?
Fisher: Not really, other than the fact that she is the only woman to achieve world “ROCK-STARchitect” status.
Gaus: I greatly admired her courage in the architectural world.
Forming Solutions: How do you think the building industry has changed over the course of time you’ve been working in it and would you say it’s changing for the better?
Fisher: It has definitely become more complex, mainly in the areas of fire safety and energy/resource efficiency. While this increasing complexity requires more professional expertise to execute, it has resulted in much needed improvements in building safety/durability, and resource conservation.
Gaus: It is changing for the better I believe, but the delivery part is in a state of confusion which we hope will be sorted out.
Forming Solutions: What are your biggest challenges in the sustainable building industry and how do we overcome them?
Fisher: There needs to be more coordination between distributors, installers and architects. We architects need to specify products that are compliant, and we need the supporting documents that coordinate developers’ material selections and installment in the field. It is essential that vendors keep up with evolving relevant codes, and their applicable installation requirements.
Gaus: The tension between first-cost and life-cycle cost which could be overcome with more public awareness.
Forming Solutions: Do you think sustainability has a large demand in today’s designs?
Fisher: Yes, at least in California simply because it is mandated by law. Where it is not, cost is more important; typically, if sustainability is an option it will only be considered if cost/maintenance/durability requirements are met first. This can be challenging.
Gaus: Larger than 20 years ago but still not large enough.
Forming Solutions: Would you say sustainability is an interest you keep in mind for designs?
Fisher: Absolutely; from day one. Orientation for daylight and ventilation inform my initial design concept. Form, materials and systems are all selected with efficiency in mind – not only energy efficiency, but efficiency of design. Design elements that have no function are wasteful; buildings use an enormous amount of resources, and any aspect of them that does not serve sufficient functions has no business being in the design.
Gaus: Of course, it is an interest I try to influence into a majority of what I do.
Forming Solutions: What motivated or directed you into the idea of designing with ICF?
Fisher: It is a smart structural system for certain building types, especially here in Southern California. We have a large demand for masonry-type styles – “adobe”, Spanish, Mediterranean, etc. Fire safety and resources (there are no trees here – wood frame construction is not very logical) also make ICF a good choice.
Gaus: The material properties; it’s simplicity, longevity, durability, practicality, insulation values, energy efficiency/cost, acoustics, affordability and flexibility. ICF is very well rounded in that way.
Forming Solutions: Where do you see sustainable design five years from now and how do ICF’s play a role in that?
Fisher: I see net-zero buildings becoming the norm, and the high insulative value of ICF walls will make this a practical use. It adequately fulfills the State of California’s energy compliance in addition.
Gaus: Because of the issues facing our planet, interest in sustainability will grow. ICF is well positioned as a building material for this evolution. Public awareness, comparative costs and qualified installers are the three factors slowing down a more universal use.
Forming Solutions: What do you see as the challenges for ICF?
Fisher: Wide openings, offsets and cantilevers are a challenge in a two-story structure. One story designs are more versatile, but two-stories become very boxy. If a client wants a two-story building with lots of large openings and offsets, then I would not recommend ICF. It is also structurally very heavy; this poses challenges in foundation design in unstable soils.
Gaus: Competitiveness in cost and speed of production compared to conventional building materials will always be the case.
Forming Solutions: What would you like to see in the future for the evolution in sustainable building?
Fisher: More education and participation in the general public. Generate EPS recyclability awareness and technical support in installation for the industry.
Gaus: That sustainability becomes a mainstream way of building in addition to setting a new standard.
Forming Solutions: Any thoughts on smart home integration with energy cost savings? Specifically, how can smart homes utilize greener building materials to better integrate with the automation features in fixtures to save even more on energy bills?
Fisher: Smart home systems that give feedback to the owner regarding usage always get people excited about sustainability – when they can actually see the benefit in real time. A baseline comparison to a less “green” home might be interesting.
Gaus: A comprehensive approach is required. There are many possibilities.
Forming Solutions: How do you better educate or communicate to the public about the benefits in insulated concrete forms and green building?
Fisher: The home improvement tv shows are immensely popular, if not always realistic.
Gaus: That’s the question. The public is more influenced by mass media than a “lone idealist.”
Forming Solutions: Would you build your own home out of ICF’s? Why or why not?
Fisher: For two-story structures It would depend on site conditions; if the soil conditions are managed through engineering then yes.
Gaus: Yes I would, especially if built into a hillside which would be my preference.
Sustainability in the building industry is urging great change in the way we look at design whether it be socially, economically or environmentally. The overall consensus is that we need to start building for a better future and reduce resources that do not generate a renewable benefit. As Fisher and Gaus point out, we also need to bridge the gaps and connect builders with architects and ultimately guide the end user or home-owner down the path of green building. This in turn will raise awareness, educate and bring everyone benefits in their homes and commercial buildings. We have a need for building products that maintain our investments for a lifetime and here at Forming Solutions we believe the answer is Insulated Concrete Forms.