Bill Dunster at the 2017 Green Building Festival

Nov 16, 2017

Our annual Green Building Festival is always an intense intellectual expedition led by passionate industry guides and tireless champions. It takes all of your bandwidth (ok…mine) just to keep pace. One really can absorb only so much in 8 hours though, no matter how transfixing or inspiring. It’s like mental whack-a-mole the ideas are coming so fast … so one really must reflect on the proceedings to compile the highlight reel. All our presenters were provocative and inspiring and contributed to a great event.

I found myself though, reminiscing a bit over one presentation in particular. To be fair, with a very full brain, the late day presentations tend to imprint the most. Bill Dunster had that spot this year.

Something lingered with me about Bill’s talk. It wasn’t the grueling, obstacle-filled journey that was the BEDZED project. It wasn’t the savvy political bartering, or the technical innovation, or even the complex integration of systems that made it come together… The project is brilliant for all of those reasons and more.

Bill’s was a personal story about the lonely life on the bleeding edge … the good the bad, the absurd, and the ugly. He lobbed in his insights, observations and lessons along the way, providing valuable counsel to anyone poised to take on the status quo. But one of the biggest charms for me was that he incited and invited us to laugh about it with him … the laughter though, was, I’ll suggest, restrained. Maybe due to post lunch carb crash. But I don’t think so.

Like the Grinch’s revelation, whose heart suddenly grew “4 sizes plus 1”, it sort of struck me that there isn’t enough light-heartedness in this ‘sector’. Perhaps green building types (if I can make a waving generalization) are on a mission to save the planet. It’s super-hero stuff and super-heroes don’t kid around while on the clock. And green types are always sort of on the clock … we do dutifully spread the apocalyptic environmental metrics and news at every opportunity: conferences, birthday parties, Starbucks line-ups, etc.

For example, late this October, the World Meteorological Organization reported that we just (fossil fuel joke alert) “rocketed” past the POINT-OF-NO-RETURN 400 ppm CO2 concentration levels in 2016 (403.56), and at an unprecedented rate. And a new 800,000 year high. Hardly a laughable statistic.

Or how about the 15,000 scientists who just signed a petition to “warn to humanity” of the pace of CO2 spewing into our biosphere. Surely such dire circumstance cannot ever be cause for laughter and amusement, can it? David Suzuki never laughed as he led us by the nose on a tour of our own folly. No, but as it turns out, he wishes he did and for good reason.

We can only take so much bad news. Laughter is a coping mechanism and good for the soul and mind. It lubricates the memory. In this case, it helped me remember many of the punch lines, the salient insights and lessons; pokes at new urbanism and eco-fascism’s draconian responses to the impending disaster (don’t quote me on the details). I loved his quid pro quo about building Georgian structures only if the inhabitants “agreed to wear Georgian clothing”, vis-à-vis the Prince Charles School of Architecture … the kudos to integrated design in the success of the project … the importance and power of words in signaling change … that the city would only give them that “lousy” piece of land to experiment with … that children of the ‘hood led tours for visitors … that without addressing transportation, green buildings were pointless … rich messages but wrapped up in a story that didn’t take itself too seriously in the telling. I think it is a presentation worth reviewing (check it out here on our YouTube channel). It is memorable for many reasons.

At the end, the last laugh was not on the screen or packaged in his wry wit. It was that I heard Bill’s deck included 262 slides, most of which he never got to. Too bad, because as delightful as he was to listen to, I think he was just warming up and I was in dire need of more laughter.

Access Bill’s full presentation here


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