Jan 25, 2012

A "Zugunruhe" for the new year

The restlessness of migratory birds described as zugunruhe is Jason McLennan’s analogy for how we sense change is coming. As birds pick up cues from the environment, their marked behavioral changes signal it’s time to head to new ground. McLennan, founder of Cascadia Green Building Council, uses this metaphor to invite us to join him in a migration heading for greater understanding of true sustainability.

In Zugunruhe he chronicles his personal evolution as an architect, through a series of lessons, or gwersi, stated as helpful reminders at the end of each chapter. Mentorship, time management and personal responsibility are key themes. He even pokes fun at himself when making the transition from prestigious sports car to small electric vehicle. McLennan strings his narrative on a path of deepening revelations, some personal, some professional, all heartfelt. Whether he’s comparing generalists with specialists, or directing us to engage in nested problem solving, you can’t ignore his conclusions.

“Once we become aware of the interconnectedness of our daily habits, our ability to manage time, and the ecological impact of our decisions, nested solutions come more easily.”

Some of the best parts come in the critique of his own profession. He ponders the fact that less than 5% of large commercial projects receive any kind of post-occupancy evaluation.

“Those not in the building professions are often surprised that it is actually quite rare for an architect, engineer or contractor to return to a previous design or project and actually measure the job’s performance beyond anecdotal feedback.”

He bemoans enslavement to process and tradition as the forces that help keep habit and standard procedures intact. He insists that we must back our intuition with measurement.

“How much energy do we use in our homes? How much solid refuse do we generate on a monthly basis? How many gallons of gasoline do we purchase each week? If we have not stopped to measure our own usage or those of our businesses in these easily quantifiable categories how do we expect to know how we as individuals can affect change on a grander scale?”

It is from his own inner sense of migration that McLennan began the Living Building Challenge.

“Imagine a building designed and constructed to function as elegantly and efficiently as a flower, one that is informed specifically by place, climate, topography, and microclimate.”

This is just the beginning of where he is headed with the tales from zugunruhe. His insight and challenges to habitual thinking are ever present as he concludes:

“You can’t change the way others act, but you can help them change the mindset from which their actions emanate.”

posted 1/26/12  by Marcella Van Oel

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