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New York, New York
United States of America

Sustainability, Green Ideas, Environment, Networking, Architecture, Engineering, Building Systems, Farah Ahmad, Farah Naz Ahmad

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Blog

My personal journal: architecture, travel, current events, New York City, & more.

Tennessee Trippin'

Farah Ahmad

KNOXVILLE

A) US DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY LAB

I couldn’t go down South to Tennessee without visiting an energy project. During my recent trip to Tennessee, I had the pleasure of touring one of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (US Department of Energy) facilities at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. While touring the Fibers and Composites Manufacturing Facility, my friend Komal Kooduvalli presented her research to share her work at the lab. She is focused on performing Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) and Embodied Energy (EE) calculations for the products and processes that are prototyped and worked on at the lab, through collaborations with its industry partners and IACMI- the Composites Institute. Says Komal, “The work related to plastics and composites that is taken up in our laboratories has a trickle-down effect on several secondary industries. We focus on aspects ranging from characterization, modeling and simulation, prototyping products and developing new materials altogether. My work specifically focuses on understanding the energy, cost and emission baselines for manufacturing products and processes. These have a direct influence on the amount of energy and resources consumed at commercial scale facilities which feed into the amount of pollutants released into the atmosphere that greatly influences human health, resource efficiency, and climate change.” 

Komal knew she wanted to pursue a career in Sustainability early on. “For me, sustainability started at a young age where I noticed how certain environments were not kept as well as others. This made me wonder why the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) syndrome is so deeply embedded within us and how we can work to rectify it through necessary education and behavior change. My first internship at a local solar company in Bangalore (SELCO India) helped solidify my interest in renewable energy. Their cost-effective social enterprise model influenced people positively, especially those in under-served communities. That summer greatly influenced me to pursue higher studies in sustainability and focus on renewable energy projects with an optimistic outlook.” Her environmental aspirations for the future are bright! “My dream job would be to work for the United Nation Development or Environment Program working on development work in underserved communities with the goal of disseminating decentralized renewable energy and possibly taking up a consulting role for such projects at a social enterprise.”    

Check out some DOE reports Komal contributed to, via IACMI!

B) KNOXVILLE INTERNATIONAL ENERGY EXPOSITION

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1982 WORLD FAIR

We climbed up the 266’ steel Sunsphere, an icon for the World Fair exposition, themed “Energy Turns the World.” Today, the Sunsphere is the icon of Knoxville’s skyline.

The energy-themed World Fair hosted interesting environmental exhibits, including Today’s Solar Home, America’s Electricity Energy Exhibit, Gas Energy Pavilion + more!

On the site of the former 1982 World Fair is the Convention Center, the first LEED building in Knoxville to be certified by the US Green Building Council. Scroll below to see the solar panels installed on its roof, as seen from atop the Sunsphere. The area was a fun evening walk, and it was incredible to think about how many thousands of Americans had migrated to this very location decades ago.

Fun Fact: Knoxville is a Solar America City!


GATLINBURG

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Gatlinburg is the gateway mountain town to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is a great pit stop for experiencing southern culture + sweeping views of the hilly topography. Check out their tramway cable rides! We walked around through the little village on the main strip,and loved all the quaint shops, galleries, and displayed craftwork!

 Just one of many delicious Southern spreads I had during my four day stay in Tennessee! Yes, I may have gained a few pounds… and, rightfully so!

Just one of many delicious Southern spreads I had during my four day stay in Tennessee! Yes, I may have gained a few pounds… and, rightfully so!

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NASHVILLE

It is easy to grasp why Music City is coined as such. As soon as I emerged from a downtown parking garage, I was greeted by very loud and distinctive live music; a fusion of country and jazz. This city is truly a melting pot for a variety of musical genres! Check out some of the sites I visited below along with travel tips.

 Tip: Check out the building directly across on the same side of the street (pictured below).

Tip: Check out the building directly across on the same side of the street (pictured below).

Music City Center, pictured above, is one of the most architecturally playful structures I have seen in the downtown area. Check out the floating composition, acoustical aesthetic and warm wood texture! I was very impressed! Though I didn't venture inside, the building does have some interesting design elements, including ample daylighting and a green roof (it's a massive footprint!).

 Tennessee State Capitol: Greek Revival Architecture.  Tours  are available to the public on weekdays.

Tennessee State Capitol: Greek Revival Architecture. Tours are available to the public on weekdays.

Architects and Country Music lovers can find common ground at this site! I was very delighted with my visit and highly recommend the Daytime Backstage tour. Described as country music’s “most famous stage”, the Grand Ole Opry was first founded in 1925. The Opry is the longest running radio broadcast in the U.S. It was originally housed at the historic Ryman Auditorium before moving to its current location in the 1970s.

 We drove through the historic Music Row district during the Music City Rollin’ Jamboree Bus Tour, and passed by this legendary recording studio- Elvis Presley recorded countless hits here.

We drove through the historic Music Row district during the Music City Rollin’ Jamboree Bus Tour, and passed by this legendary recording studio- Elvis Presley recorded countless hits here.

 Live music at The Basement, Nashville: every live music performer in Nashville is TALENTED!

Live music at The Basement, Nashville: every live music performer in Nashville is TALENTED!


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We ended our trip with an extra day in Knoxville (Thank you, Allegiant Airlines, for canceling our flight+ providing no alternatives. Travel Tip: Do NOT fly Allegiant). We spent the day at the Knoxville Zoo!

USGBC TOUR I DC

Farah Ahmad

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On a typically humid day in Washington, DC this Summer, I set out to tour the U.S. Green Building Council. My initial affiliations with this organization stem from my visit to the 2013 Greenbuild International Conference & Expo in Philadelphia amongst an amazing group of scholarship recipients. I was a LEED Green Associate at the time, and only 1.5 years out of college. I knew even in the advent of my professional career that I had stepped foot into an extraordinary movement: Greenbuild is the world's largest conference for green building. Not long after attending, I pursued the LEED AP credential. Around this time, I also read Explosion Green & I remember instantly connecting with the 25 year old who was developing his professional skillset to carve his own way into a fairly new industry. The book details the inevitable formation of the USGBC from its humble beginnings to its global trickle down effect.

Since these pivotal moments, my fascination with the organization has only grown. It has sparked opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration on a massive scale! At the very least, USGBC has raised awareness to the green building industry, bringing together technical professionals (architects/engineers), marketing professionals, the materials/manufacturing industries, & more, under one umbrella. The development of its green building rating system (LEED, a third party verification that generates a performance score to measure a building's 'sustainability') has created hundreds of jobs. USGBC has also shaped policy, influencing legislature on both national and local levels: New York City requires LEED certification for city-funded buildings under certain provisions, and USGBC played a role in advancing federal law. Additionally, the data USGBC collects from the expansive LEED-certified building stock, allows us to recognize industry trends and thus advance policy.

 The headquarters is located in a very accessible neighborhood, with connections to public transit (I personally carpooled and took an Uberpool), and a  Walk Score of 96 ! Of course, it wouldn't be a LEED certified building without bike racks, available for the tenants' use, as well as an in-house electrical vehicle charging station.

The headquarters is located in a very accessible neighborhood, with connections to public transit (I personally carpooled and took an Uberpool), and a Walk Score of 96! Of course, it wouldn't be a LEED certified building without bike racks, available for the tenants' use, as well as an in-house electrical vehicle charging station.

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The USGBC headquarters occupies 2 floors of a

10 story building. The existing building is certified

under LEED for Existing Buildings:

Operations & Maintenance.

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Take a look at the USGBC Headquarters' LEED Scorecard (94/110 total points) to see how the office ranks. 

Imprinted behind me is the USGBC logo in the lobby area, glass staircase connecting to the headquarters' second story, and the stunning two level waterfall. Water features always assist with passive cooling, perfect for DC's characteristic muggy Summertime. The stairwell is structurally strengthened with carbon fiber, a lightweight material with greater strength than steel, and also a much lower embodied energy.

 Wonderful to reunite with Ryan Snow, Director, Market Transformation + Development, six years later! Ryan is super passionate about USGBC's mission. "I’ve been passionate about energy and the environment since middle school, but it was not till I learned about what buildings can do to positively impact these issues that I really had a clear pathway to address them. We spend 90% of our time in buildings and they are a tangible way to have a significant impact in addressing energy and resource, protect the environment, and enhance human health - plus it makes great business sense!"

Wonderful to reunite with Ryan Snow, Director, Market Transformation + Development, six years later! Ryan is super passionate about USGBC's mission. "I’ve been passionate about energy and the environment since middle school, but it was not till I learned about what buildings can do to positively impact these issues that I really had a clear pathway to address them. We spend 90% of our time in buildings and they are a tangible way to have a significant impact in addressing energy and resource, protect the environment, and enhance human health - plus it makes great business sense!"

ARC- We're standing in front of GBCI's digital tool, ARC, which provides a live score on the office's sustainability performance, as determined by preset parameters. Explains Ryan, "LEED is now powered by a powerful performance tracking and benchmarking tool, Arc. This allows all building owners to enter the system and see how incremental improvements can move them toward higher performance, making LEED certification much more within reach for a broader building stock." Energy and water consumption data is quantative, drawn directly from meters. Waste, transportation, and human experience are measured through occupant surveys.

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The ARC platform measures building (and has expanded to the city level) performance across five metrics: energy, water, waste, transportation and human experience.

LIGHTING- Daylighting is incredibly evident around the office's perimeter with floor to ceiling glass walls, and the office's light-colored interiors help reflect the daylight deeper into the space. Efficient fluorescent lighting is utilized throughout. Some of the fixtures also integrate daylight harvesting, shutting off lights along the daylit perimeter when ample daylighting is available. Along the perimeter one can also find an automatic electric shade system that reduces solar glare. Occupancy sensors throughout the office turn on lights only when occupants enter a space.

PROGRAMMING FLEXIBILITY- The office merges an open floor plan with cubicles, and private offices, creating versatility for work spaces throughout. The office workstations are designed for flexibility, allowing flexibility as the occupants' needs change over time. 

Scroll through the below galleries to catch glimpses of different work space configurations.

BIOPHILIA- Over 97% of regularly occupied spaces have a direct view to nature. No workstation is far from a window! Additionally, plants are found throughout the office, providing a biophilic environment.

The employee break room, seen through multi-colored panels above, contains furniture handmade from locally salvaged hardwood, some of it crafted by the Amish. 

 The boardroom is host to many exciting international meetings. In fact, even when we visited, representatives from Shanghai had arrived to meet with USGBC staff. Fun facts: The space contains a demand controlled ventilation system, which adjusts outdoor air intake based on the CO2 of the occupants in the space, providing fresh air as needed. The metal ceiling is made of recycled aluminum and the modulations and perforated backing help with acoustics. By the way, furniture throughout the office is low-emitting, and/or contains recycled content.

The boardroom is host to many exciting international meetings. In fact, even when we visited, representatives from Shanghai had arrived to meet with USGBC staff. Fun facts: The space contains a demand controlled ventilation system, which adjusts outdoor air intake based on the CO2 of the occupants in the space, providing fresh air as needed. The metal ceiling is made of recycled aluminum and the modulations and perforated backing help with acoustics. By the way, furniture throughout the office is low-emitting, and/or contains recycled content.

MATERIALS LIBRARY- The materials library is such a neat (and my favorite) component of the office! All the finishes/fixtures/furniture/equipment in the office can be sourced and is archived in this neat resource collection, containing product samples and green attributes data. The drywall you see behind the library and throughout the office is made of 98% recycled content, and painted with a zero VOC finish.

LEED CERTIFIED OFFICE- Scroll through the above signage to see how the office space achieved its LEED certification through the various credits in its rating system.

HVAC LOADS- The air curtain feature below is also one of my personal favorite office elements. Air is blown through this recessed slot in the ceiling and creates a 'barrier' that prevents mixing of the interior cooled office zone with the solar heat gain at the building perimeter. The office utilizes a VAV system, allowing individual occupants to dictate their thermal comfort via strategically located thermostats. Heating and cooling loads in individual offices are also connected to occupancy sensors, allowing load reduction with occupants vacate the space.

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WASTE MANAGEMENT-The office's in house recycling program utilizes green practices, even hiring caterers who implement good waste management practices. Recycling and composting collection areas are clearly designated (see below). ENERGY STAR rated appliances are found in the kitchen, as are low-flow plumbing fixtures.

These kitchen countertops are made from 100% recycled glass and concrete.

 Rated LEED Platinum, the USGBC Headquarters was the first building to achieve certification under the 2009 version of LEED for Commercial Interiors. The beautifully warm gumwood in the elevator vestibule carries through to the lobby, and was uniquely salvaged from the Tennessee River.

Rated LEED Platinum, the USGBC Headquarters was the first building to achieve certification under the 2009 version of LEED for Commercial Interiors. The beautifully warm gumwood in the elevator vestibule carries through to the lobby, and was uniquely salvaged from the Tennessee River.

So where does the future of USGBC lie?

Ryan sees a bright future in USGBC’s role in the battle against climate change. "Improving existing buildings operations and ongoing performance is the future of green buildings. It’s the largest part of our building stock and has the most significant long term impact. Design and construction are important, but if even the greenest of buildings is not properly operated and maintained, energy and environmental performance is not maximized. It’s amazing what can be done to improve performance, even in older buildings."

My city, New York City, is a perfect candidate for this goal and is actively working through its local laws to reduce emissions in its overwhelmingly large existing building stock. I’m personally excited to witness how USGBC will continue to bring awareness to environmental sustainability in the buildings market!

Thank you, USGBC, for an insightful tour through your living lab headquarters!

I am Licensed: RA!

Farah Ahmad

FARAH

I am excited to announce to the world that I am a Registered Architect, and have achieved licensure in New York State!

The last 2 years and 6 months of exams have not been easy. However, the fight for these two new letters next to my name is a milestone I have wanted to achieve since I first submitted all those college applications over a decade ago, and filled in 'Architecture' as my choice of study. The road began with the intense Undergraduate degree: I completed a rigorous (and often sleepless!) NAAB Accredited 5 Year Bachelor of Architecture program. I also documented over 5,000 work experience hours for the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. Next came the exams and evaluation: the grueling process was 3 years, from studying for the initial exam and record review to receiving my issued license number. 

And thus, I completed the big three: Education, Experience, and Exams.

All my fellow Architects understand the anxiety that begins with the weeks leading up to the exam scheduled date, creeps into that restless night prior to an exam, and likely escalates when stepping foot into a Prometric Testing Center. They really know how to get your heart pounding when you get scanned like you're at the airport, before sitting down in front of that white screen! Nevertheless, scattered papers, migraines, restless nights, and indexed textbooks all over the floor are all part of the rite of passage of any aspiring Architect. 

Now that the studying is over, I am excited to use my knowledge in building systems and engineering, project management, construction documents and services, programming, site planning, construction and materials (...and more!) to advance the green building industry! The last six years of professional experience have been incredibly eye opening, as I've been blessed to work for the City of New York, and merge my love for both technical knowledge and advocacy at various government agencies. I want to help design the built environment in the most efficient manner, and I want to publish, and lecture on, my views on energy efficient architecture, based upon my own navigation of the profession. Green building is a unique niche our profession is still embracing and I am excited to be living through this revolution! I want to be a leader, but lead by example.

So, world, I am ready to be inducted into the elite class of Registered Architects.. we are a rare breed, we are a uniquely impactful and influential profession! LETS DO THIS!

 

 

 

 

FIFA World Cup w/ David Villa!

Farah Ahmad

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I never expected to be sitting next to an international legend. I never anticipated meeting a footballer whose career spans the iconic Spain's national football team, FC Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, and my team, New York City Football Club (NYC FC). I certainly never believed I would meet a footballer who has made THREE World Cup appearances, including earning the prestigious title of World Cup champion in 2010! Simply put, I never expected to be watching the World Cup with a World Cup athlete.

When McDonald's initially selected me to be the recipient of an "unforgettable morning surprise," I was stunned. I was simply immersed in capturing the play by play of the excitement, and engaging with fellow World Cup viewers and football fanatics. Consequently, I was thrilled when I learned that my social media interactions had caught the eye of a global corporation. 

On the morning of the surprise, I was nervous, as I did not know who to anticipate at my doorstep. A huge crew was flown in to New York City to capture my reaction. The viral video, (shared by both McDonald's and David Villa on social media!), says it all. I heard a knocking at my door, and when I opened it, a wave of disbelief hit me. Standing right on my doorstep in my small town in Staten Island, New York, was the captain of the NYC FC.

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I had first seen David Villa play live three years earlier, Spring of 2015, and remembered receiving goosebumps knowing I was in the stadium with one of the world's biggest icons. Now, here he was, greeting me by name and delivering a personalized McDonald's breakfast. I started chatting with David Villa, fully expecting a quick meet and greet at my doorstep. I even spoke a little Spanish (once I regained my composure). However, the McDonald's team arranged for David Villa to come inside and watch the World Cup game that was streaming in my living room!

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Was David Villa really sitting on my couch and watching the World Cup with me? This once in a lifetime opportunity was mesmerizing, to say the least. Once inside, we discussed the current game's predictions, the potential outcomes of the World Cup tournaments, his move to New York City in recent years, his time in the NYC FC and current grounds at Yankee Stadium, as well as speculation of an NYC FC stadium. We spent a full hour hanging out, enjoying the McDonald's breakfast, and chatting about so many different aspects of life and football. David even signed a FIFA World Cup Official Match Ball for me. As he left, I wished him luck on his career path and told him I'd continue to follow it!

David Villa is truly a humble and grounded icon- incredibly down to earth in his interactions. I have so much respect for his work with the youth, his active engagement with fans, and his commitment to NYC FC. He is dedicated to his training, and in fact, he was headed up to training (NYC FC has a new training facility in Orangeburg) right after his Staten Island visit.

Thank you McDonald's for truly creating the most magical and memorable FIFA World Cup experience of my life!!! I will treasure these moments for future World Cups to come.

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Signing the official FIFA World Cup match ball!

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Catching the World Cup game!

100% Renewable City in America

Farah Ahmad

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My visit to one of the first 100% renewable energy cities in the USA!

In 2017, Georgetown transitioned into a 100% clean energy city. I WANTED TO FIND OUT WHY & HOW.

Walking around Georgetown, there are few physical manifestations of the city's choice to exclusively harvest renewable power sources! Instead, a tightly knit town square, which residents have proudly designated the most beautiful town square in Texas, spans the center, surrounded by a variety of local mom and pop shops. Side note- the city holds an interesting historical charm- I visited the William County Courthouse, where the first successful trials & subsequent prosecutions of the Ku Klux Klan members took place. Blue Hole Park, a picturesque "swimming hole" (Southern feature, we don't have these up North!) is also a neat photo opp.

In 2017, I viewed Al Gore's An Inconvenient Sequel- GEORGETOWN WAS FEATURED AS A MODEL AMERICAN CITY FOR COMBATING CLIMATE CHANGE. MONTHS LATER, I VISITED & AL GORE WAS IN TOWN THE SAME DAY!

So where does Georgetown's success begin? Let's start with stating that, as of this post, there are fewer than 10 cities in the United States of America that have adopted 100% clean energy targets. Georgetown, Texas was one of the first cities to achieve this success! (FYI- additional current American cities with this distinct honor are Aspen CO, Burlington VT, Greensburg KS, Rock port MO, and Kodiak Island AK.) By 2035, DOZENS more American cities will be at or near this same milestone! Isn't this exciting?! Sierra Club has compiled this awesome list, check it out to investigate cities near you! 

So when I first learned about Georgetown, I was honestly taken aback that such a small and ultra conservative city could be so innovative. (Let's face it, the views of Texas' former governor, Rick Perry do not scream "fight climate change!", but his love for fossil fuels is pretty obvious!) After doing some sleuthing, I discovered Georgetown began rethinking its power sources way back in 2012. When given the option to renew its contract, Georgetown knew the common sense option was to be as economical as possible. Solar and wind maintained stable prices for the long term future, while oil and gas prices would continue to fluctuate. Renewable energy source contracts included fixed prices for the city's long term future, while fossil fuel-based contracts would remain at a fixed price for the short term future. What's more is that the clean energy platform has drawn plenty of national media attention (and Al Gore!) and has been a great way to bring in economic investments. By 2016, Georgetown was 90% renewable, and in 2017, the city hit its 100% renewable energy target as initially set out.

Both wind and solar contribute to the cause. Interestingly enough, the power isn't produced locally, but is generated on a wind farm in Amarillo, TX, 500 miles away! Additionally, construction of a solar farm is currently underway, and Georgetown's power will be supplemented by solar energy this upcoming Summer 2018.

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Inner Space Cavern

I enjoy exploring caverns, and this one definitely makes my top five! It's amazing how extensive the caverns plunge into the grounds, underneath Interstate 35. You don't want to get lost under here! Scattered with remnants of prehistoric Ice Age animals, the cavern is now home to dozens of tiny bats.

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 Local architectural gem my Uber driver took me to when I told him about my passion for Architecture. This one is known amongst locals in Georgetown.

Local architectural gem my Uber driver took me to when I told him about my passion for Architecture. This one is known amongst locals in Georgetown.

Texas Through a Green Architect

Farah Ahmad

A planned trip to Texas involved an itinerary of sustainable sites and practices- some intentional, and some unforeseen surprises...

I. SAN ANTONIO

Southern hospitality is very much alive in San Antonio!  A family-friendly city with acres of suburban sprawl, San Antonio is currently the second most populated city in Texas (and seventh in the country)! With a population of over one million, San Antonio continues to see growth of migration into its neighborhoods. As I quickly surmised, its historic district, the "tourist magnet", is only a small representation of the city's culture. This downtown core is encompassed by radial patterns of circulation, an intertwining fabric weaving in and out of San Antonio's various districts. During my travels, I was lucky enough to drive through many varying enclaves and catch glimpses of everyday life.

SHIPPING CONTAINERS

San Antonio's (SA) hidden jewels are its contemporary construction! Click the right handle above to see zoomed in construction details of the modular containers.

A casual drive [OK, it may have been a detour- thanks, construction sites!] surprisingly led me by the site of these shipping container homes! I've since learned these single-family projects by local developers are a growing contemporary living trend in SA, and are pretty affordable- in the $300,000 range. Shipping container construction is sustainable due to its speedy erection (usually produced off site and assembled on site with crane) and reduction in construction demolition waste. Two thumbs up!

RIVERWALK

The world famous San Antonio Riverwalk is a part of the country's largest direct recycled water delivery system! You'll see, as you scroll through the photos below, that the waterway weaves through man-made landscaping and in and out of buildings! Over 130 miles of pipeline deliver recycled water to San Antonio, and the Riverwalk is simply one recipient of this large system. Aaaaaand, another fun fact!: San Antonio reuses 40% of its water! That's amazing for a city with varying uses and demographics, including a consistently growing population. Click the right handle below.

For all my Architecture fanatics, check out my photography from Architectural Riverwalk delights below, taken from the obligatory Riverwalk cruise tour. I highly recommend GO RIO River Cruises - one cruises for an extended period of time, and boldly towering over guests on either side of the river's edge are buildings that comprise San Antonio's economical development and industrial history: they offer humble insight of the city's beginnings.

Have to slide in a fun travel tip- the bridge in the last photo of the gallery below is featured in the film Selena, starring Jennifer Lopez! 

PEARL 

Once an industrial site for decades, the brownfield site of Pearl Brewery has transformed into a mixed-use development: offices, retail, dining, park space, and more! While there are many environmental design considerations, perhaps the most impressive is its material reuse. Over 300,000 SF of the existing 450,000 SF of historic buildings were salvaged and re-purposed! And, not only are materials reused, but 100% of the water used on site for landscape irrigation comes from recycled water or on-site captured rainwater.

The newly restored 67,000 SF warehouse on site is also an architectural delight- it has achieved LEED Gold certification and receives 25% of its energy from the over 700 solar panels on site (at one point, this project was Texas' largest solar installation). It has also achieved a net EUI of 42 kBtu/sf/yr. To be quite frank, my eyes kept glazing over the interior industrial catwalks and exposed structure- really great expression and aesthetic of the bare-bone!  

I'm highlighting my personal favorite features of my site walk-through below, so click the photos below (I liked this community so much, I came back three times on three separate days, and highly recommend a visit here- the bohemian culture is reminiscent of New York's LES and Williamsburg).

The beauty is in the details: creative reuse of materials and public engagements- door handles, planters, and beer cisterns for rainwater storage all echo the industrial past. The solar power kiosk educates visitors on annual renewable power production.

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Green Texan Cuisine

Site programming also echoes the site's green sentiments. Green Vegetarian Cuisine at Pearl serves DELICIOUS vegan and vegetarian options!

ECO CENTRO

 The William R. Sinkin Eco Centro is a local sustainability events and lecture LEED-certified space designed for community interaction with the environment, operated by San Antonio College. I loved how the exposed building systems speak volumes about the center's mission. The rain cistern, drainage system, solar panels, electrical vehicle charging stations are all on display and interact wonderfully with the site. I've included a photo of me with the cistern just for scale! Navigate through the left and right handles below.

SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT DEPARTMENT

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I also toured the offices of the City of San Antonio's Solid Waste Management Department, with my friend who serves as their Recycling Coordinator. The agency practices sustainable solid waste management and has several initiatives that align with its mission. Waste diversion, recycling, organic materials weekly pickups, specialized drop off areas (ie electronic waste, household hazardous waste, bulk items, plantings) and current development of a commercial recycling program, are all facets of the SA SWMD!


II. AUSTIN

Austin is home to the country's first green building program, implemented in 1990! Austin Energy Green Building has a scorecard system, just like LEED, but rates three primary markets: single family, multifamily and commercial. To my surprise, the urban district is fairly small (then again, I'm a native New Yorker, and my standards are on a whole other level). I personally felt the 'outskirts' of Austin hold the real adventure. Check out McKinney Falls State Park below with its cratered landscape and aged dense rock formations. I felt compelled to check out what a "swimming hole" was, apparently really popular in the Southern USA, because we don't have those up North!

Now let's continue geeking out on those green sights!..

TEXAS STATE CAPITOL

Everything in Texas really IS bigger. At 999,000 SF, this is the largest state capitol in the country! It is truly a massive complex to walk through, but the tours are informative and intimate, given how popular they are.

Two environmental design features I personally appreciated:

a) Both the Senate and House of Representatives Chambers (first two photos below) experienced excessive solar heat gain at one point. To remedy this issue, double pane glass was installed in both ceilings, and viola! Also to be noted is that since the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, historic preservation likely played a role in any fenestration replacement.

b) Daylighting is integrated into the light courts design of the underground addition, constructed in the 1990s. Click images below to really see the amazing quality of the daylighting, and how it seemingly heightens the space!

AUSTIN CITY HALL

This LEED Gold complex is designed with the theme of transparency, allowing the public to see the workings of city government! Austin City Hall offers awesome private tours. We even walked by the Mayor's office and into his conference room, where many international diplomats have gathered over the years! Austin City Hall generates its own energy with its impressive solar canopy and also receives half its energy from renewable resources, thanks to utility provider Austin Energy's Green Choice Program (primarily wind power). 

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Limestone, copper, and concrete, all durable materials, comprise the structure. The use of recycled copper is AMAZING, because copper is heavily utilized- wrapped around the envelope as an exterior cladding, and also playfully angled as an interior finish over the core and atrium (the first photo below illustrates its use in acoustic clouds). Interior and exterior shots display the patina of the copper over time due to oxidation. The brilliant, reflective interior hues have now faded into a muted dark brown tone, and in approx. 30 years, will become green (think Statue of Liberty). 

Super neat mechanical system features were also highlighted during the tour. The building's HVAC condensate is recycled for its landscape. Even cooler (no pun intended) is that Austin City Hall is part of Austin Energy’s Downtown District cooling system- ice is generated overnight in a plant and used to chill the water that cools the building!!

IN.GREDIENTS

This zero-waste store is a small but truly impactful gem! 99% of its overall waste and ZERO percent of its food waste is sent to the landfill. In addition, all food items are locally grown by farms in the area. Check out the certificate presented to the store below by Austin Energy, which congratulates in.gredients for its commitment to renewable energy by "purchasing electricity from clean, renewable energy sources!"

Locals also informed me that Texas' power is deregulated: in other words, homeowners and businesses can select their utility provider. That means there's an easier way for citizens to go the path of clean energy, as this business has committed itself to!

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Green Cleanse

 

This popular Austin chain takes raw juices and blends into a healthy drink. But, this is just easier to make at home. Click here for creative ideas!

STATE OF TEXAS ALLIANCE FOR RECYCLING

While in Austin, I also attended out the STAR (State of Texas Alliance for Recycling) Summit mixer and was inspired to see how conscious folks are of waste collection efforts. They have found that GREEN business is GOOD business, and have dedicated their careers to this cause. If you're in the area, check out this annual conference which brings together both local and regional professionals.

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS

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No trip to Austin is complete without climbing up the clock tower on the University of Texas and checking out the skyline. Embedded in the skyline is the LEED Gold Frost Bank Tower. By the way, as of 2017, Texas ranks in the top ten states for LEED certified buildings, as reported by the United States Green Building Council. No surprise that there are thirteen LEED certified buildings on the UT campus alone!

Sights of the South

Farah Ahmad

I spent hours photographing South Carolina and Georgia during a vacation to the South, in Fall 2016. I'm pleased to finally share my adventures within the sister cities of Charleston and Savannah (and Tybee Island!), cities that hold two of America's largest historic preservation districts. The cities are flooded with American history and Architecture. Please scroll through the left and right handles below in the individual galleries.

SAVANNAH

Savannah Film Festival, Savannah Food Festival (Daffin Park), Chippewa Square (Forrest Gump), River Street, Savannah Waterfront, Jepsen Center for the Arts, Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, Girl Scout First Headquarters, Forsyth Park, Savannah Historic District, Owens-Thomas House, Mercer House, Davenport House, Bonaventure Cemetery, Oglethorpe Square, City Market, Tybee Island + more

CHARLESTON

The Battery, Calhoun Mansion, Charleston waterfront, Charleston City Market, Nathaniel Russell House, Charleston Historic District, Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, Fort Sumter, Rainbow Row + more

Charleston: Preservation of Plantations

Farah Ahmad

Photographs will capture much of the historical radiance through which Charleston shines- I know I cannot possibly cover every detail, but I will try and recount my personal experiences of these preserved plantations. During my stay in Charleston, I visited four plantations which have driven the economics of this city. I wanted to share the many layers of American history buried behind the gorgeous gardens and luscious landscaping, which to date, have become the backdrop to modern day weddings and extravagant social affairs. Behind the glitz and glam of the plantations, there is the history of the slaves who labored long hours in the highly fruitful crop production of Charleston. Ultimately, the enslaved Africans led to Charleston's prosperity. Charleston became the largest port of entry in North America for enslaved Africans, and undoubtedly, they became the reason these plantations thrived. 

Boone Hall

Nothing could prepare me for the Avenue of the Oaks while I gazed out from my Uber ride at the overhanging oak trees. The trees draped with moss, lined so neatly, embraced each other at the center, as if to form an entry canopy. I had only seen glimpses of Boone Hall through the film The Notebook, but you must visit in person to experience the tranquility of time. The grounds, the air I was breathing, the static structures, poised with calm composure- it was as if they had not aged, and held in stories of their own to tell.

Boone Hall dates back to 1681, when the plantation was first founded. The plantation has transferred ownership several times throughout the decades and the present day main home was not constructed until the 1900s.

A handful of the slave cabins still stand today. These single-story solid masonry structures can be toured by the public, and serve as little museum hubs. They are boldly positioned in front of the main home on the plantation, oriented towards visitors arriving from the Avenue of Oaks.

Photography was not allowed inside the main home of the plantation. Inside, wealthy displays of furniture and finishes from the landowners who resided within the Colonial Revival style mansion. Every detail- from the flooring to the crown molding- was seemingly maintained in excellent condition. A piano, the dining table, bookshelves integrated into the walls.. these provide some glimpses of family life in the 1950s. Click the left and right handles below to scroll.

Today, the plantation is still active, growing crops in Spring, Summer, Fall, and is the host of many seasonal events. While on site, I learned about the Gullah culture through a live performance with singing and storytelling. The Gullah are African Americans residing in South Carolina and Georgia, whose ancestry trace back to the roots of slavery, and who have preserved their culture to this day. The ancient craft of Gullah basket weaving is a common sight along the streets of Charleston. I also experienced a guided tour in a trolley, throughout the many acres of the plantation! 

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Magnolia was founded in 1676 by the Drayton family (Drayton Hall is located nearby), and is certainly one of the most beautiful gardens in America. Magnolia' roots stem from its rice fields.

The scene captured below at Magnolia is the single most picturesque scene I have ever, ever, ever wandered upon. There is a very profound silence and stillness throughout the garden. I do not believe any visit to Charleston is complete until you have seen this garden with your own eyes, because it is truly mesmerizing. The numerous plantings and lakes are, simply put, pristine. 

Walk through Magnolia by clicking the left and right handles below.

Today, the plantation hosts several recreational activities on site, including a petting zoo, trails, pedestrian bridges, and gardens... click through the photos below.

Drayton Hall

Similar to the previous plantation, Drayton Hall is located along the Ashley River. The home is an icon of the grounds. 600+ acres of indigo and rice fields are visible as you walk through and along the periphery of the site, where it meets adjoining waters. The Palladian style mansion from the 1740s is set so crisply- its portico and stories so sharply defined.  

Middleton Place

Middleton Place's sharply defined axis and symmetry were well appreciated as I traversed the site. The gardens have cleverly integrated man-made features into what will feel like a very natural, yet intentional experience. One will also notice the rice fields that are evident along the Ashley River. Interesting tidbit: Arthur Middleton, a signer of the Declaration of the Independence, lived on this site!

The reflecting pool, independent structures strategically dispersed throughout the site, incredibly friendly herds of animals down South, blacksmith, crafts of centuries past, and similarly rare traditions are displayed in my gallery below. Please utilize the left and right handles to walk through Middleton...

Charleston: Visiting 'The Notebook'

Farah Ahmad

Charleston, South Carolina- Oh, I have so much to say about you! ('ll author an additional entry on the aura of Charleson later!)... what a city of charm that captured my heart! And, on that note, I thought I would commence with a classic American love story.... The Notebook! Let's face it, what journey to Charleston would be complete without submerging oneself in Nicholas Sparks' 1940s romance?

Site # 1: The American Theater, 446 King StreetCharlestonSouth Carolina: The site of Noah and Allie's first date. Art Deco architecture complete with vintage exterior marquee!


Site # 2: Boone Hall Plantation: Mt Pleasant, South Carolina- Allie's parents' summer home. In the film, Noah is seen driving up the Avenue of Oaks (pictured far below), before walking up towards its front gates (immediately below). Boone Hall Plantation is something special- founded in 1681, it is one of America's oldest working plantations. The home originates from the early 19th century and nine of the original slave cabins still exist- it was amazing to walk 'into' history! But more on the history in a later post... 

 Noah drove up Avenue of Oaks, shown here, before approaching the Boone Hall Plantation residence.

Noah drove up Avenue of Oaks, shown here, before approaching the Boone Hall Plantation residence.


Site # 3: The Traffic Light scene! #Nowordsneeded

 FYI- there is no overhanging traffic light as depicted in the film. And do NOT try lying down on the street in the middle of the day- it's a pretty busy intersection! As you can see, there has been a fair amount of new construction & we utilized some architecture contextual clues from film clips to figure out the exact corner.

FYI- there is no overhanging traffic light as depicted in the film. And do NOT try lying down on the street in the middle of the day- it's a pretty busy intersection! As you can see, there has been a fair amount of new construction & we utilized some architecture contextual clues from film clips to figure out the exact corner.


Site # 4: Calhoun Mansion: We toured the interiors of this amazing Gilded Age home. With its Italianate architectural style, you WILL feel like royalty the moment you step in behind closed doors. With its 35 rooms and 24,000 sq ft interior, it's no wonder Calhoun Mansion is the largest private residence in all of Charleston. The interiors of this home were utilized for the film. We weren't allowed to shoot any interior photography, but viewed several rooms (including the dining room shown below) and walked up the very stairway where Allie was seen (shown below). The encompassing gardens are stunning, but the interiors are breathtaking. I've never seen so many imported international luxury furniture & finishes within one space! The beauty is in the detail- look closely and you'll see custom (and labor intensive!) wood, beautifully finished plaster, and etched crown molding.


Site # 5: High Cotton at 199 East Bay Street. This restaurant is home of the scene in which Noah looks through a restaurant window and finds Allie dining inside with her fiance Lon.

First LEED-Certified McDonald's in the USA!

Farah Ahmad

While visiting the Architectural delights of Savannah this October, I was thrilled to learn from our tour guide that Savannah is home to the country's first LEED Certified McDonald's! This fast food haven also happens to be located in the first LEED Certified Shopping Center! Ironically (or maybe fatefully so), the location was only a mile away from our hotel. #ThanksUber. This particular building was constructed in 2005 and received its LEED-CS (Core and Shell) Gold certification in 2006. We inquired within and, while we did receive more than our share of stares for photographing a local fast food spot, (I probably would have judged myself too) to my satisfaction, the employee knew of the LEED certification. However, she did not know it was the first of its kind in the country. The friendly employee also walked us around to the rear of the McDonald's to point out the hybrid vehicle parking spots (remotely located). While exploring the retail development, we questioned an employee of an adjacent retail store about the shopping center's LEED certification. He was clueless about the prestige this particular certification holds in the green building industry! 

Want to learn about the project's features? Curious to see whether it lives up its actual certification? Check out my video below as I praise and critique its sustainable design features! For a more thorough project profile, click here

Special credit to Jocelyne Jeannot for shooting & editing this on the go!

 That facade has SO MUCH daylighting potential!

That facade has SO MUCH daylighting potential!

 LEED Plaque proudly mounted on McDonald's' facade behind me!

LEED Plaque proudly mounted on McDonald's' facade behind me!

 LEED rewards applicants for installing a bike rack on the property to encourage sustainable transportation alternatives.

LEED rewards applicants for installing a bike rack on the property to encourage sustainable transportation alternatives.

 White 'cool' roof- proud to say we found this design feature implemented throughout the entire Abercorn Common Retail Development- white roofing everywhere!

White 'cool' roof- proud to say we found this design feature implemented throughout the entire Abercorn Common Retail Development- white roofing everywhere!

 Interior Daylighting- but why are those recessed light fixtures on? =(

Interior Daylighting- but why are those recessed light fixtures on? =(

 For the win!

For the win!

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. So feel free to leave a comment below!

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UPDATE, NOVEMBER 2018

-Click here to check out McDonald’s newest energy-saving location in Chicago and the opening of their headquarters, now back in Chicago.

-During Greenbuild International Conference and Expo week held in Chicago this year, the city launched the Chicago Renewable Energy Challenge, encouraging the installation of renewable energy technologies on properties all over Chicago. McDonald’s is one of seven founding members of this initative! Per the announcement above, “founding members collectively commit to reducing a total of 184.5 million kilowatt-hours per year. That is the equivalent of taking nearly 30,000 cars off the road, enough electricity to power over 20,000 homes for one year, or 300,000 barrels of oil.”

-For more information on McDonald’s corporate sustainability goals, visit this page!

 

Renewables on the West Coast!

Farah Ahmad

It is difficult to capture the sense of peace that washes over me while in the West Coast. I cannot attribute my immeasurable joy to one facet. Is it the climate? The slower pace of life? The topography? The friendly locals?

What stands out when I close my eyes are the stretches of dry heat at temperatures. They are bearable at a much higher threshold than their East Coast counterparts. I remember standing outside in 110 degrees heat. Somewhere in Buckeye, Arizona- I let my eyes soak in the scene beyond the paving of the rest stop I was standing in: blurred boundaries of horizon, mountain, and desert. Bright, yet warm hues of brown, yellow, orange...

Long ranges of mountainous topography serve as stationary reference guides no matter how many miles of road your tires hit. They follow you no matter where you go. Phoenix is a flat city, encompassed by mountains all around. Throughout the Mojave Desert, and in Kingsman, AZ, the mountain ranges echo your lineal travel. In California, the mountain ranges appear diverse at shorter distances- sometimes hidden, and sometimes emerging from behind well known landmarks. Regardless of where you travel in these three states, the mountains are always close by. 

While I have much to say about the many beautiful towns and enclaves of the West Coast, I thought I would highlight some truly amazing renewable energy projects that are picking up momentum in power generation throughout the years. So check out my photography below, read about my personal experiences, and send me your comments!


ARIZONA'S TALIESIN WEST

80% of Taliesin West is powered by solar! A television display in the gift shop on site indicates the amount of power generated. It is amazing to see a National Historic Landmark embrace renewables! Solar panels are not visible on the structure itself and do not detract from the beautifully preserved estate. As you drive up the long winding dirt paths toward the Wright site, the solar array will emerge to your left. They are set back from the main road, hidden behind diverse desert landscaping.

 Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd- Scottsdale, Arizona

Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd- Scottsdale, Arizona


NEVADA'S HOOVER DAM

A 1930s construction and engineering feat, the Hoover Dam is one of the largest generators of hydroelectricity in the country! Three cheers for renewable energy! Sited upon the Colorado River, the Hoover Dam provides power to three states: Nevada, Arizona, California. That's approx. 4 BILLION kWh each year! Interestingly enough, around the time I visited, Lake Mead (which connects directly to the Colorado River) hit a historic low point (which would cause the Colorado River to shrink).

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CALIFORNIA'S IVANPAH SOLAR POWER FACILITY 

Driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, a shiny speck lingered on the horizon from a far-off distance. Driving closer, the small spectacle grew into a bright light. When I finally drove alongside the farm, I realized I was passing by a concentrated solar thermal plant! While I didn't spot any clear signs designating the facility alongside Interstate 15 (Hey federal government, can we please place big signs for the energy nerds out there, and for general education to the public?), a quick GPS search told me I was mesmerized by an array of heliostats and mirrors, comprising a solar thermal plant. Heliostats are devices equipped with mirrors that track the sun. The sunlight is concentrated on the receivers of three solar power towers, producing steam to generate electricity.

What you see pictured below is one of the solar thermal plants on site- there are 173,500 mirrors in California's Mojave Desert! The plant opened in 2014, and to this date, has generated over 400,000 MW-h.


CALIFORNIA'S SAN GORGONIO PASS WIND FARM

I drove through the nation's largest wind farm, while leaving Southern California and driving towards Phoenix. Located in Riverside County, California (just east of Palm Springs), around 4,000 wind turbines are sited to power Palm Springs and Coachella Valley! I can't seem to find an exact number on the number of wind turbines, and this may be due to the fact that some of the turbines are not operating. In fact, I would estimate 1/3 of the ones I saw were completely static! A wind power industry expert recently advised me that some of these turbines may actually be outdated models that just have not been replaced (cost & maintenance are huge issues with wind turbines!) Whatever the story is on these (there's no exact reading either on power generation!- only a single outdated statistic which tells me an annual generation of approx. 900 GWh of electricity), wind speeds do reach 15-20 mph. A mix of desert and coastal air make this the perfect site to harness the energy of the wind. This is definitely worth the drive-through as the turbines are quite the sight due to number and height! If you ever do pass through, step out of your car for a minute and feel the strong winds of the deep mountain pass.


GREENING THE GRAND CANYON

While I didn't spot any renewable energy systems throughout the Grand Canyon West Rim, I do want to share the National Park Service's green measures- if one of the country's largest tourist attractions can set an example for the millions of tourists it receives each year, then let's showcase it! Click here to learn about the Canyon's green measures. 

 Snapped this one of the Colorado River after a helicopter descent to the base!

Snapped this one of the Colorado River after a helicopter descent to the base!

Energypath 2016

Farah Ahmad

Thank you Energypath 2016 for a wonderful week at Pennsylvania State University!

I wanted to share some glimpses from an unforgettable conference. I reconnected with industry friends and met new inspirational leaders in the sustainability movement across the United States. I always feel at home when I'm connecting with like-minded individuals striving to fight for the environment and against climate change. I spent an entire week engaging in an energy camp- submerging myself in the fascinating technical building science of Passive House Design. I also attended industry seminars on wind energy, building envelope design, solar implementation & more.

 Visited Penn State's MorningStar Solar Decathlon entry! It now proudly sits on campus. Check out more on their project here: http://sustainability.psu.edu/morningstar-solar-home.

Visited Penn State's MorningStar Solar Decathlon entry! It now proudly sits on campus. Check out more on their project here: http://sustainability.psu.edu/morningstar-solar-home.

 Penn State has a number of LEED certified buildings on campus, including this one featured at LEED Gold-certified learning center: Millennium Science Complex, by Rafael Viñoly Architects

Penn State has a number of LEED certified buildings on campus, including this one featured at LEED Gold-certified learning center: Millennium Science Complex, by Rafael Viñoly Architects

 One of several sustainable transportation alternatives around campus!

One of several sustainable transportation alternatives around campus!

 Interesting seminar on wind turbines & energy!

Interesting seminar on wind turbines & energy!

 Millennium Science Complex, Penn State University, University Park Campus- by Rafael Viñoly Architects

Millennium Science Complex, Penn State University, University Park Campus- by Rafael Viñoly Architects

 I know this photo is blurry! However, the keynote, futurist Jack Uldrich, was incredibly memorable! Uldrich lectured on global trends & argued that technology can pave the way for sustainability- and in fact, is already happening! Technology provides solutions that can eliminate future construction applications.

I know this photo is blurry! However, the keynote, futurist Jack Uldrich, was incredibly memorable! Uldrich lectured on global trends & argued that technology can pave the way for sustainability- and in fact, is already happening! Technology provides solutions that can eliminate future construction applications.

 Katrin Klingenberg, Executive Director, PHIUS- Katrin is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the Passive House movement. Seeing her dedication to her science & work on the Passive House movement reminds me why I love my field.   

Katrin Klingenberg, Executive Director, PHIUS- Katrin is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the Passive House movement. Seeing her dedication to her science & work on the Passive House movement reminds me why I love my field.

 

LIVE FROM THE UN: CLIMATE CHANGE AGREEMENT

Farah Ahmad

Check out my videos below.

Leonardo DiCaprio addresses the General Assembly on Earth Day at the United Nations Headquarters, in New York City.

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York City on April 22, 2016, Earth Day:

Pakistan signs the Paris Climate Change Agreement:

Earth Day 2016

Farah Ahmad

SIGNATURE CEREMONY

NEW YORK CITY I  APRIL 22, 2016

The historic debut and display of democracy inside the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City was a captivating ceremony that drew the eyes of the world. I sat with other members of Civil Society (non-governmental) in the balcony of the General Assembly Hall, the area allocated for non-member states. Each of us was incredibly excited for what was to follow, as we knew we were about to witness history. Only weeks prior I had filled out the application to attend, expressing my personal commitment and professional experiences in climate change action. I was truly thrilled I would be experiencing these moments with my own eyes!

As a sustainability professional in Architecture based in New York City, I am adamant that my profession has a huge burden to dispel many of the adversary effects of climate change. Here in the United States, buildings represent nearly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions! Seven years ago, I vowed that energy efficiency and the environment would become both my social cause and career platform, within the track of Architecture. I've since embarked upon a number of projects and engaged with dozens of professionals, in order to expand my knowledge base and serve my community! 

The balcony of the General Assembly Hall slowly started to fill at 8 AM, a vibrant buzz in the air filling any remaining voids of the space. To my amazement, I happened to be seated directly behind Zhang Yue, Chairman and CEO of Broad Group. Only months earlier, I had been watching a BBC Documentary on 'Sky City', which if built as planned, would be the world's tallest skyscraper. Additionally, its one-of-a-kind method of prefabrication and assembly would be conducted in a record breaking amount of time. The Broad Group conceived an assembly time of only 90 days for a 202 story tower. The project has not yet been built as it has undergone miles of red tape. I remembered watching Zhang Yue on television as he spoke of dedication and discipline in working towards achieving his dream of a constructed reality. In person, he was incredibly humble and shared pamphlets with me on the project's concept. If this was how the day was beginning, I knew I was in for a treat.

At 8:30 AM sharp, the Signature Ceremony commenced, hosted by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The international delegates who had flown in were thanked for their leadership. "Climate action is essential," Ban Ki-moon adamantly stated. 

The necessity of the future generation to get involved was recognized several times throughout the ceremony. Dozens of children lined the aisles of the ground floor of the General Assembly, while a video montage displayed snippets of international alliance and action urgency. "We need to listen to young people," Ban Ki-moon reiterated. 

The Signature Ceremony marked the next step for countries to cement the commitment that was declared forth in Paris in late 2015, at the United Nation's Conference on Climate Change, at the 21st annual COP (Conference of the Parties). Here, discussions revolved around the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, an international treaty marking global cooperation on climate change, set in 1992.

The next level, which took place in New York City on Earth Day 2016, involves signing the COP21 Climate Change agreement. On Earth Day 2016, 175 countries officially signed the agreement. 15 countries went one step further and submitted their instruments of ratification, or action plans for climate change. Additionally, some nations have already ratified the agreement in their home countries while at least 10 other countries, including major powers United States and China, have promised to ratify it at some point this year.

Joining the UN Secretary-General on stage was French President Francois Hollande. France was the first country to sign the agreement at the ceremony. Also present was COP 21 President and France's Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, Ségolène Royal.

Ban Ki-moon also invited several speakers to relay the message of climate change action. Several leaders spoke expressing their country's commitment, speaking for 3-10 minutes. Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received a warm applause as he stated, "We are all equal to that challenge [of climate change]." India's Anand Mahindra, representing the business world, advocated a "transition leading to 100% renewable energy in the future." Indigenous rights activist Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim delivered a fresh perspective, highlighting destitution on this international platform. Climate change, she says, is "adding poverty to poverty everyday."

United States Secretary of State John Kerry was greeted with much praise as he was present to sign the Climate Change Agreement for America. "The power of this agreement is the message that it sends to the marketplace," citing the allocation of capital and entrepreneurship. "The United States looks forward to joining this agreement." He brought his granddaughter with him, as he signed the agreement, underscoring the role of the younger generation.

Rounding out the speakers was actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio who made quite the impression. DiCaprio declared climate change is the result of human action, contrary to the small percentage of critics who have chosen to ignore the roots of this impending disaster. He stated fossil fuels should stay in the ground and denounced the role of corporations who mine these resources for profit, to which the audience applauded loudly. DiCaprio has traveled the world widely and described the devastating effects of climate change he was witnessed around the world. DiCaprio urged each delegate to go back to their country and implement change, or else the agreement would mean "nothing."

After the speakers commemorated the cause, each country was called up one by one to sign the agreement. It's hard to explain how moved I was to see the delegates of each country- Heads of States and Governments, Vice Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers of Finance, and Ministers of various departments pertaining to energy and the environment- walk up to the stage and officially pen their commitment! 

I'm sharing some of my personal photos and videos from the event in order to try and capture the grandiose moments. In the meantime, check out the list of countries who were present and see if YOUR country has stepped up its commitment! Follow their progress and spread the message! We can all support our nations and play a role.

Want to start taking quick steps in the battle against global warming? Check out 'The Lazy Person's Guide to Saving the World.' 

One more thing.. leave your feedback below! I would love to hear your thoughts.

Click the arrows below to view some captured moments. You can view my videos here.

 

 

Two Green Thumbs Up for Massachusetts

Farah Ahmad

INTRODUCTION

Look up Massachusetts in an old history textbook and you'll probably see America's Founding Fathers. Look up Massachusetts in a contemporary Encyclopedia and you'll probably see a splattering of GREEN. Two words spring to my mind: Sustainable Living. I may have left a piece of my heart out there- yup, it's laying in acres of grass next to one of the dozens of solar arrays. 

I knew I was in for a treat when I signed up for a weekend in Western Massachusetts. Scenic mountains span the horizons of the region: this New Yorker who spends her week commuting and caught up in the fast pace of the city life will never take nature for granted. What I did not know is how green the state is! Massachusetts is one of the top states for solar. Its government is active in policy: incentives, rebates, and a quick return on investment are all bonuses. It's no wonder solar applications are common. The entire state is immersed in renewable energy programs and I'd love to share some glimpses because it is truly a lesson we can all learn from.

HYDROELECTRICITY IN HOLYOKE

Holyoke is a tight-knit community under its industrial layer, nestled on the western edge of the Connecticut River. The birthplace of Volleyball, "Paper City" holds a deeply-rooted history in paper-making-- sited by the water are paper mills. They ran on the dams nearby. While today many of these mills have been converted into alternate uses, faded painted signs of mills are indicative of these structures' former history. However, these mills weren't the only consumers of the dam's rich source of energy. Today, about 2/3 of Holyoke's annual electricity comes from a clean and renewable energy source: hydroelectricity! Read more about Holyoke's green initiatives here.

Pictured Below: Holyoke Dam

 Holyoke Dam: Owned by HG&E (utility company)

Holyoke Dam: Owned by HG&E (utility company)

OFF THE GRID IN NORTHAMPTON

We spent the weekend living off the grid at this solar lodging in Western Massachusetts. 

Ground mounted and roof mounted arrays comprise the entry elevation as you drive up. Personally speaking, the setting was reminiscent of factory production, with its bold panels facing the sun and visitors. The 'visibility' of the energy pumping into the home was almost equivalent to the enthusiasm of the homeowners. Their magnificent 'project' has evolved over the last decade. It was such a warm feeling to speak with locals who truly believe in harmonizing with nature: the owners- a designer builder and an artist- shared their sentiments on stewardship for the environment. 

The home is truly off the grid: battery storage and generator for back-up power, and the water supply is connected to a local well.

The 'greenhouse' effect traps heat for the glass-enclosed space on the southern facade of the home. When the sliding glass doors open, the adjacent living spaces of the open floor plan can be warmed up.

Skylights reduce the dependency on artificial light and highlight beautiful architectural detailing and woodwork craft.

AMHERST

Businesses support local farming: everything is freshly grown in the area and distributed- how much more transparent can you get? Side note: Yum! 

Solar array at Atkins Farms Country Market. Just one of many...!

As a resident from New York City, most of the installations I see are on private, expensive homes or city-owned buildings.. Seeing large applications of solar utilized for local uses was rejuvenating. It reminds us that every member of society- homeowners and businesses alike- should remain conscious of their impact on their immediate environment. These folks are a shining example of harnessing the power of the sun through good old-fashioned hard work.

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VEGAN LIFESTYLE IN NORTHAMPTON

Traveling with a Vegan, I indulged in locally-sourced cuisine all weekend. Alright, I may have cheated a few times, but I had my share of Vegan food! Cafe Evolution, Bela Restaurant, Haymarket Cafe and Dobra Tea are just a handful of Vegan and Vegetarian eateries that line the vibrant life of Northampton. 

So the Vegan lifestyle isn't for me, but it was a unique experience. I enjoyed browsing locally grown produce and talking to local businesses, who are conscious of what they eat and sell.

BOSTON

So we ventured outside of Western Massachusetts for a day and headed over to Boston.  I discovered an electric charging station in the parking garage, and one street-side. I can't recall the last time I've seen one in New York City. No, this was not going to escape my attention, and yes, I was stoked. This was shortly after we scoped out the interiors of a Tesla at a local mall: electric cars for the win!

CONCLUSION

Western Massachusetts gives me hope. Self-sustaining communities are bringing down the country's greenhouse gas emissions by adopting sustainable practices: residents, businesses, utility companies, and government all actively partake in this lifestyle. I was incredibly motivated after my trip to Western Massachusetts because the locals are just AMAZING. They express an understanding of and love for the environment. Moreover THEY WALK THE WALK. By sharing some of my experiences, I hope I've convinced some of you to go visit the region. It's a simple life with centered around a solid value: take care of your environment, and it will take care of you.

Scranton

Farah Ahmad

One week in Scranton's beautifully preserved history proved memorable. I wasn't expecting to see the work of some of America's well-known architects dispersed throughout, softly integrated into the quiet community. They weren't screaming for attention. Rather, these structures quietly upheld their elegance. I had been to Scranton as a young child, exploring Lackawanna's coal mine with much delight. After returning more than a decade later, I was able to rediscover Scranton's magic through different forms.

I was delighted to discover how many jewels were embedded within this Pennsylvania city's fabric of folklore and built framework. Scranton, home of the country's first streetcars, supplier of New York's coal, and even the fictional setting for NBC's The Office, was full of surprises!

The diversity of architectural styles and the settling calm encompassing its streets create an amazing local and low-key ambiance by foot. Alas, enough typing. I'll let my photographs tell Scranton's stories. Click the left/right arrows or thumbnails, to view some of my favorite shots. And if you have ever been to Scranton, or can offer more insight on the city, let me know, I'd love to hear about it!

 Lackawanna Historical Society

Lackawanna Historical Society

 Municipal Building

Municipal Building

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 University of Scranton: has a few LEED certified buildings on campus already built and also under construction

University of Scranton: has a few LEED certified buildings on campus already built and also under construction

Energypath 2015

Farah Ahmad

What do you get when you place hundreds of students, educators, and professionals from all over the country on one campus? Energypath 2015! The week-long camps and conference, held from July 19-24th, were filled with attendees from all ages and backgrounds, creating a diversely creative environment of skills and ideas. 

Pre-conference camps focus on Sustainable Energy, including Passive House, Biomass, Micro-Hydro, Solar Power PV, and Wind Power. The camps culminate in a two-day conference with dozens of sessions on renewable energy. Industry professionals lectured on numerous topics, including energy policy, energy storage and financing, power sources, and more. Many lectures were supplemented with real case studies, launched by the presenters themselves, providing comparative and critical analysis.

Energypath 2015 at the University of Scranton was overflowing with enthusiasm for energy! I chose to participate in the Solar Camp. For the first three days of the conference, fellow campers would gather and we received a lecture on solar energy (diving into technical installation as well as political, cultural, and social implications!). Instructors Vera Cole and Bill Hennessy, both sustainability and solar professionals based in Pennsylvania, and whose work in the field is incredibly extensive, shared their passion.

At the end of three days, we had the structural racking set up, solar panel assembly complete, and the grounding/wiring finished. We tested our panels' output! Here's a snap of the completed array: twenty-four modules facing South, on the sprawling University of Scranton campus.

We split into twelve teams, measuring voltage output, current, ambient and module surface temperature, array angle, and more, while working on the assembly.  

Keynote speakers framed the context in which building industry professionals actively engage in. 

John Hanger, Pennsylvania Secretary of Planning and Policy, kicked off the conference by outlining the goals of Pennsylvania state. "Our goal is to be a top five clean energy state," Hanger said proudly. "Active citizens," he emphasized, could help bring this change, speaking directly to the audience. Hanger also stressed the need for bigger support in policy-making, better data, good science, and good analysis, citing environmental examples. While improvement is needed in these areas, Hanger pointed out that natural resources that are abundant in Pennsylvania- its gas, nuclear, and natural gas production are among the top in the country.

"Without the sun, we do not exist." The next Keynote's attention to the natural environment was clear from the start. Bill Maclay, Principal at Maclay Architects, and author of The New Net-Zero, brought many years of design experience to the table, as he listed numerous projects his firm has actively worked on. His support for renewable energy, and the role business plays within sustainability, was evident, claiming that net-zero buildings are now cheaper than "fossil-fuel buildings": "You make money the first day you shift to renewable energy," Bill exclaimed boldly. 

Click the left and right arrows below to check out some of the seminar and keynote highlights.

One of the conference highlights was meeting Keynote Speaker Sam Rashkin, Chief Architect (Building Technologies Office) of the U.S. Department of Energy! Rashkin stressed the basics of design, taking human comfort into play, and explained how we could achieve these tactics. He focused on zero-energy buildings, highlighting Risk Management (including an optimized comfort system, water protection, indoor air quality) and Differentiation (utilizing advanced technology, having health protection, and following building code). Regarding the energy industry, Sam's wise words rang loudly in my ears: "If you chase this field or it chases you, you will likely feel both the fast and slow pace." As a government professional in energy, and having worked in three city agencies in New York now, I can attest to this statement!

 Sam Rashkin, Chief Architect, U.S. Department of Energy

Sam Rashkin, Chief Architect, U.S. Department of Energy

I also test drove the Nissan Leaf... loved the experience! The brake and accelerator were very sensitive, so it took me a few blocks to get used to.. but other than that, it is a very quiet vehicle and the ride was incredibly smooth. Its operation was also simple, as shifting into gears is simple and user-friendly. Verdict? I would love to own an electric vehicle. New York City, we need more charging stations!

Instructors Vera and Bill demonstrated the power of solar through fun micro-applications: the manual Solar Pathfinder to calculate cast shade on the site and determine PV placement, cooking popcorn with solar, and a solar cooker for bread! Scroll through with the left and right arrows below.

More conference snapshots! Scroll through with the left/right arrows below.

In addition to the conference, we had the opportunity to take part in two tours: one emphasizing the sustainability of the University of Scranton campus, and the other was a beautiful architectural/historical tour of Scranton! I'll blog on these next!



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