“I came to an open house here two weeks after I moved to Austin. I was so impressed, I took Pliny’s course in architecture at UT.” Gail Vittori was a Massachusetts transplant and fresh undergraduate with a degree in economics in 1977. She landed got a City of Austin job in a federally funded energy weatherization program. “That opened me to the idea of access to resources for all.” In 1979, she came to work at Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (CMPBS), and has been here ever since.
“I am a non-architect at the table with all architects. I ask questions that no one asks. I want to know about the building, the environment, and the people. Things can go wrong because people take too much for granted. They focus on aesthetics. They talk about the entry for hours, but not about the termiticides in the specs.”
The Austin Green Building Program, which CMPBS developed in 1989, was the first building energy model to include water, waste, and site issues in evaluating the environmental impact of construction. At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, it was the only US-based program recognized and eventually became the template for the nationwide LEED system for promoting energy conscious development.
“Decades ahead, in the 2000’s, someone asked me to write a paper on healthcare and sustainability to set the healthcare environmental agenda at Kaiser Permanente. I was not a healthcare expert, but healthcare proved a good direction for CMPBS as a way of thinking.” This led Gail to be part of creating the Green Guide for Healthcare. “Let’s create the tool without, ‘you must do this, you shall not do that.’” She also co-authored Sustainable Healthcare Architecture. “The issues applicable to healthcare are applicable beyond healthcare facilities. They raise issues of toxins and exposure. As a result, people are much more literate about environmental health within the built environment.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“It’s a profound question. We have to undo much of what we’ve done. We have to unbundle our buildings that do not serve us well. They are not grounded with primary definitions of shelter. If a building denies us health, it is not addressing primary function.
“What are facilities addressing? Another green hospital is not going to address our upstream problem. It can’t promote wellness. It’s not even appropriate for chronic diseases. If a beautiful building is not accessible by foot or bike, it is robbing us of an essential need: movement and being human.
“In my office I never have to turn on a light during the day. It’s not just about the electricity. It’s about how the eye reacts and the mind responds to artificial light sources. The cisterns at our entry have an aesthetic contribution, but they are all about performance. If I like the way something looks but it doesn’t deliver on performance, it loses its validity.
“In 2014, Austin went for six months with no rain. We had 90 days with temperatures over 100°. We did not run out of water, but we came close. Now, Austin uses 140 gallons of water per person per day and we are adding 100 to 150 people every day. Other cities consume under 100 gallons of water per person per day. We are moving in the wrong direction.”