Future looks bright for energy-saving Oberlin home: Full House
When retired professor Carl McDaniel called to tell me about Trail Magic -- his Oberlin home that is so energy efficient, it runs on sunshine -- he talked so fast and threw out so many unfamiliar terms that I understood only every other sentence.
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Since: May 11
#1 Aug 3, 2012
Green Guru Gone Wrong
(Fast Company.com 10/13/2008)
...Then there is McDonough's "great story" about Oberlin College and his "building like a tree." McDonough's stunning Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies facility was completed in 2000; by the next year, actress Susan Sarandon, in a voice-over for The Next Industrial Revolution, a documentary on McDonough, was describing how "the building produces more energy than it consumes," a claim echoed later that year in a Metropolis magazine profile on the architect. Four years later, in a 2005 TED conference speech, McDonough was still highlighting his own achievement, telling conferees, "Here's a building at Oberlin College we designed that makes more energy than it needs to operate." However, John H. Scofield, an Oberlin physics professor who has taught in the building, began monitoring its energy use when it was completed in 2000. He calculated that it was consuming more than twice the energy projected and drawing 84% of its power from local power plants, rather than renewable sources. "We should sue William McDonough + Partners," Scofield told The Oberlin Review in 2002 (he is not a spokesperson for the university).
The ambitious design McDonough had proposed for Oberlin was significantly over budget -- and had a number of engineering flaws -- and had to be scaled back. In a 2002 Environmental Building News article about the controversy, Scofield is quoted as saying, "Even after changed plans went into construction, McDonough and others were using 1997 modeling data in their claims about the project. It won awards based on those claims!" David Orr, former chair of Oberlin's environmental-studies program, concedes that the award-winning building didn't become a "net energy exporter" until 2006, after the school funded a $1 million upgrade of the solar-power supply. Orr says Oberlin never claimed the building would achieve its goals immediately -- "You have to avoid overpromising what you can't deliver" -- but that didn't prevent McDonough from inserting the story into his globe-trotting sermons.
The Oberlin case is part of a larger pattern, some of his former colleagues say. "McDonough doesn't care if the facts are wrong," one told me, "because he's a self-mythologizer. His job in the world is to convince people that a positive future is possible, and it doesn't help his cause to admit there are hiccups and failures along the way."
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