Talk Story with David Bylund

David Bylund of Architects Hawaii is all for sustainability

June, 2007

David Bylund, an associate at Architects Hawaii, has a passion for green. He heads the firm’s sustainability in architecture programs and is a member of the Hawaii Environmental Council. Bylund, who has degrees from Princeton and Columbia universities, moved to Hawaii seven years ago by way of India, New York and San Francisco. He also has completed numerous projects in Asia and Europe. Bylund was the project designer for the John A. Burns School of Medicine building in Kakaako, where Hawaii Business magazine met with him this past April – several hours before he was scheduled to leave for China.

David Bylund on Hawaii and the world
Seeing the great buildings of the world, cities and environments, provides this database for the way things are done. It demystifies a lot. [I have seen] places where things are not as wonderful as we have it environmentally, socially and culturally. [It is] clear that if we don’t take care of Hawaii, we could end up living in places that are like other parts of the world.

On environmentalism in infancy
Hawaii is not doing enough. But it feels like something is shifting. The fact that they passed a bill [Act 96] last year, requiring publicly funded projects to achieve LEED “ Silver” is very good. LEED “Silver” is great, but LEED “Gold” would be better. [LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environ-mental Design, a national benchmark for green buildings.]

Government is doing what it should do in leading the way, and I hope the private sector will come along.

On the word “sustainability”
There are a lot of people who see sustainability as extra. Too alien, expensive, too different. We can get stuck with the semantics of being green. If we could set the words aside and use the ones that work well for us, sustainability can be high-performance, high-quality. Think beyond buildings and think about healthy communities, smart growth. There are a lot of different terms. If people can find a term that resonates with them, maybe it’s going to work better. Maybe they’ll end up creating results that someone else will call sustainable. Come at it without the label and find what really resonates with them.

On government mandates
With Act 96, government has made a statement. [The law has encouraged] people in government to educate themselves and to reach out to the private sector and learn about [sustainability]. There’s a consciousness-raising [among] a large group of people. The private sector that provides these services to the state is waking up and going, “I need to know this stuff, too, because if I’m going to compete on that next job, I’ve got to make a good case.”

On building industry incentives
There have been attempts to create incentives for the private sector. And a big issue in the industry is how long it takes to get a building permit. Are there tax credits for buildings to achieve certain levels of energy performance? Is there a fast-tracking in the permit [process], where, if your project is LEED “Silver,” you can get through the process faster? That’s been done in other places. Another incentive that may not work as well in Hawaii is this: [In] development opportunities and land-use ordinances, you can only build so much, so many square feet. [We should create a program where] if you went LEED “Silver,” you’d get 10 percent more area [than you originally would have] been allowed to build. Those are two examples of incentives. Unlike tax credits, they don’t cost anything.

On the tourism industry
There’s an irony in Hawaii. This place is so wonderful and we’re so far away from everybody else that it would seem so much more obvious that our environment is fragile.

Our visitor industry, our economic engine, depends on this place being beautiful. My concern is if we don’t pay attention to the environment right here, our livelihood is going to go away. It has everything to do with transit, traffic, water, where development happens, suburban sprawl. At a certain point, people are going to say, “Well, Hawaii is OK, but, man, it’s crowded and all I get to look at are houses.” I don’t think we need to do that. We can have great economic growth, a wonderful place to live and use the sustainability principle. The next generation is more attuned to this. That’s a very positive thing.

On public buildings
At the moment, there’s one kind of public building. It looks Mediterranean, and it tends to have a green, sloped roof. That’s fine. It has its place. But I would like to see more variety, or good architecture design in Hawaii, so when a modern building shows up, I applaud, like the Honolulu Design Center. Our built environment can be both respectful, interpretive of the past, but convey that Hawaii is going somewhere, as well. That’s a bit of a struggle. [There are] lots of different points of view.

On global warming
Two things happened recently. One is Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.” It was compelling. Global warming is real, and the degree to which it’ll happen is still a mystery. I was also at a meeting at the Gold Bond Building on the top floor, where we had a visitor from the Mainland, who made a point about global warming. We were looking out the window at Kakaako, down toward Waikiki, and this person was astonished that, if the ocean rises a foot, or the storm surges and makes things more severe, Hawaii would be affected. Again, we are in a place where we’re going to feel the effects, depending on what they are. [We will feel the effects] more than a lot of other places. The planet is about things being created, things dying and species coming and going, but we seem to have accelerated that in a way that the planet will go on, but our experiences of the richness of the place [will be] diminished. That is really sad. It seems like a lot of people think it’s too late. It’s real. People are affected. Let’s as individuals, as businesses, let’s as government, pay more attention.

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