Building science and climate science in Asheville



Image: Emily Coleman-Wolf

Nestled in the mountains of North Carolina, Asheville is uniquely qualified to provide a collaborative environment between climate scientists and other groups. Over the last 66 years, climate data from all over the world has been gathered and stored at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville. Currently, the City is home to the headquarters of the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Numerous climate scientists call Asheville their home, which has allowed Asheville, often called “Climate City”, to tap into an incredible wealth of knowledge.

With such a strong foundation in climate research in the region, The Collider, a nonprofit innovation center, saw an opportunity to create a place where business and science “collide” to create market-driven solutions for climate change. The members are focused on understanding how our environment is changing, what we can do to predict it, and how we can adapt. With the renovation of an existing downtown building, The Collider provides a variety of spaces to foster this communication, collaboration, and education around climate change.

The Asheville chapter of the American Institute for Architects (AIA) and The Collider began collaborating five years ago, when Marjorie McGuirk, founder of CASE Consultants International, a consultancy specializing in climate science outreach, decided to better inform architects about climate change and approached the Asheville AIA with the idea of an educational forum.

“Coming together to collaborate with The Collider and CASE was a natural for us,” said Bill Langdon, AIA, principal at William Langdon Architecture and a past president of AIA Asheville. “We must educate our members and others about how to design with the changing climate in mind. This symposium is one of the best places to hear directly from climate scientists and building scientists.”

During the past three years the event, Climate Adaptive Design: Where Climate Science Meets Building Science, has grown from 40 attendees in 2015 to 80 attendees in 2017. Each year the event brings together world-renowned climate scientists and architects to provide insight on how their professions are addressing the changing climate. In addition to the full day of presentations, the event also offers a public lecture with content for all audiences from homeowners to industry professionals.

This year’s event included a public presentation by Keynote Speaker Victor Olgyay, AIA, a bioclimatic architect living in Boulder, Colorado, and principal with Rocky Mountain Institute. Olgyay shared his personal history of designing with climate in mind. Olgyay designed his first passive solar house in Asheville and has since worked as an architect, writer, professor, researcher, daylighting designer, and environmental consultant. “Architects have a big responsibility for the role the built environment plays in climate change,” said Olgyay. “Globally, buildings consume 35 percent of all energy and 60 percent of all generated electricity—much of which is produced by fossil fuels.

“As the largest end-use energy sector, buildings account for more than one-third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, all buildings from our homes, offices, schools, or shopping centers—and the architects who design them—can either exacerbate our climate problem or be a foundational part of the solution.”

Olgyay believes that buildings must support human and ecological needs. His research on ecosystem services as criteria for green building assessment resulted in the “Green Footstep” building tool, demonstrating a lifecycle approach to the reduction of carbon, water, and ecological footprints.

Ryan Welch, researcher and building physics and data visualization specialist at Kieran Timberlake, presented “Life Cycle Assessment: An Architect’s Toolkit”. His explanation of how Life Cycle Assessments work was incredibly informative. In addition, he explained how TALLY, the Revit add-on for LCA was created.

Other topics addressed included how climate data and resources freely available from NCEI can be used to model a wide variety of climate events from hurricanes to wildfires. These resources are being used by everyone from city planners to school children to assess their environment and create resilience plans.

This event is serving as a model for how to bring other groups together to learn more about addressing climate change. CASE and The Collider have teamed up with various groups including urban planners and health practitioners to understand how climate change will affect their fields. This model of education across disciplines is incredibly valuable.

“This is the time and place for architects to lead on climate change,” said Olgyay. “Architects designing high-performance buildings can provide the foundation for a transition to a resilient, clean energy future. It’s the opportunity of our lifetime.” AIA Asheville intends to continue these collaborative events and to be part of the resilient future.

Below are links to resources from this year’s event including information on the presenters:
Event: Where Building Science meets Climate Science   
National Climate Assesment Infrastructure report 
US Climate Resistance Toolkit

Emily Coleman-Wolf, AIA
Chair, AIA Asheville COTE

As a project architect at Novus Architects, in Asheville, North Carolina, Emily Coleman-Wolf has worked on a wide variety of projects ranging from residential and small commercial to larger institutional and healthcare projects. Emily is passionate about sustainable design and served as a board member of the Western North Carolina Green Building Council from 2005 to 2010. She is now an Ambassador to the Living Building Challenge Program and a member of the Asheville Collaborative. She is also the Chair of the Asheville chapter of the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment. Emily is licensed in North Carolina and received her Bachelor of Architecture degree from Roger Williams University in Rhode Island.