This month I worked on a couple of large buildings in San Francisco, assessing their energy use, mechanical systems, and asking a few key questions to workers who were everyday there. My main take-away: even the most demanding, brilliant, ivy league, tech. oriented (and spoiled), 25yo software engineers were super happy to spend most of their time in a 90+ years building with no air conditioning, no forced ventilation and no temperature regulation. “It’s much better here than the Google campus! We are in the city, man… we have a life”.
My informal questionnaire started with the basic question: are you feeling cold or warm in here? And as expecting I had a lot of “YES!”, followed by a quick… “but, here we can open the windows and get the fresh coastal breeze”. The number of bikes I saw in these white wall industrial design offices is mind-blogging. The green gen. is right here, for sure!
Any similar NEW building would be designed with a much higher windows/wall ratio, highly insulated, loaded with A/C units on the roof and probably be LEED platinum certified. Of course, the energy use of this type of modern design is much higher that a good old passively cool/heated building as the one I audited. However, the main question remains: would these workers be happier in a fully conditioned space? It turns out a recent study asked this precise question (see here): not really…
This study confirms what I saw on the field: in San Francisco, we don’t need highly insulated and conditioned spaces. Passive design is the way to go for a low energy intensity city. Unfortunately, look around, like any other mega-city in the world, everything that is currently build in San Francisco these days is all glass (best way to gather too much sun heat), high rise (compromising any significant solar roof design), sealed windows (bye the fresh breeze…), and conditioned air (do you really want to live 24/24 at 68.4 degree?).
Maybe I should start teaching these architects about passive design concepts, like I was teaching digital photography to pro. photographers in the 90s? Well, guys join me next Fall for San Jose State ENVS 132 class.