David Ogoli

Green pastures

Poverty | For Christian architect David Ogoli, dwelling with sustainable buildings is a calling

Issue: "Wealth and poverty," March 14, 2009

From an office on the campus of Judson University, a small evangelical college 45 miles northwest of Chicago, architect David Ogoli speaks passionately of his commitment to sustainable buildings. The Cambridge-educated Kenya native brimmed with pride as he outlined the LEED Gold rating of the very structure in which he sat.

The Harm A. Weber Academic Center, which houses a library and architecture studios, opened its doors to national acclaim in August 2007, six years after university president Jerry B. Cain issued a challenge for any architect to design the greenest building possible, given budget and functionality parameters. The winning design includes a natural ventilation system, extensive daylight with sensors that shut down artificial lighting when not needed, and use of solar panels to minimize need for grid power.

The project stands on the cutting edge of sustainable technology, exactly where Ogoli believes Bible-believing Christians should be, he said during a recent interview.

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WORLD: What is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)?

OGOLI: It's a way to measure how environmentally friendly or how sustainable a building is or a community is. It has objective categories such as energy efficiency, sustainability, the use of materials, the design innovation. It's still a debate among those of us who are members of LEED how to weight each category. For example, if you design a building and provide five parking spaces for electric cars and put a shower in the building so that those who ride a bicycle to work can take a shower before going to the office, you would get so many points. If you design a building to be naturally regulated and day lit, that's a harder process, yet the maximum total of design innovation points is five, while the number of points for putting in the parking spaces could be something like 10 or 15. At the moment, it's the best rating system we have.

WORLD: What makes a building "green"?

OGOLI: A building is green when it transforms the indoor air quality positively for the occupants. A building is green when it makes the community better, the water cleaner, the people healthier. Everything in the building and around the building is environmentally and socially responsible. It is energy efficient. And it is sustainable. That means the materials used in the building do not harm people. If there is a fire, it does not produce toxic gases.

WORLD: Why should Christians care about this?

OGOLI: Regardless of the arguments about global warming or anything else that is debatable or that we don't fully know, we ought to be taking care of what we have, the land, the air, the water. I'm not sure from a national perspective how many churches are moving this way, but I know some of the local Baptist churches here are. And Willow Creek, a very large church in suburban Chicago, has a number of things in their 7,000-seat auditorium that are sensitive to this. I've taken my students there to see.

WORLD: What impact will sustainable architecture have on the future of U.S. cities?

OGOLI: Right now, at least 90 percent of architectural firms have somebody taking a LEED exam or somebody knowledgeable in the LEED markers or the area of sustainability. And people have warmed up to the idea at almost every level-city councils, colleges, residences. If we keep doing what we're doing today, the world will be much better 20 or 30 years down the road. We are on a positive trend.

WORLD: How expensive is it to build sustainable structures?

OGOLI: The building I'm in right now uses about 47 percent less energy than a comparable building in this Chicago-area climate. And the extra cost for greening the building was something like 10 percent. When you consider the energy savings, all the money for extra design, testing, and materials will be saved back in five or six years down the road. Thereafter, the building will make a net gain for Judson University.


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