"Indy joins an international movement

by Tom Alvarez, David Hoppe and Anne Laker

Like the inevitable arrival of spring itself — or a ton of recycled bricks — the green design phenomenon has hit Indianapolis. This city is finally ready to claim its stake in an international movement marked by contextual, Earth-conscious ways of thinking about the built environment. From Germany and Australia to Canada and Japan, urban planners and architects are building structures that produce their own energy, utilize water and air efficiently, feature recycled and non-toxic building materials, and integrate a building’s functions. Green design is an ethic, a practice, a product that regards resource conservation in the planning, design and impact of a building.

Here in the U.S., cities and states are investing in green design as a hopeful answer to the specter of global warming. The heating and cooling of homes accounts for about 20 percent of U.S. energy use, according to federal estimates — and cutting that usage can only help efforts to reverse climate change. In Vermont, many builders are voluntarily adhering to rigorous energy-efficiency standards. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is funding solar rooftops on a million new homes. With a green roof on City Hall, Chicago calls itself the greenest city in America. Nationally, green homes are projected to increase to between 5 and 10 percent of U.S. housing starts by 2010, yielding a market value of $19 billion to $38 billion.

What can green design mean for Indianapolis? More LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings, for one thing. LEED is a nationally accepted benchmarking tool developed by the U.S. Green Building Council that guides the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. Green design in Indy means that neighborhoods will be competing to be the greenest. It means that our city will be doing more of its part to reduce carbon emissions. It means that homebuyers and clients will have more choices in building methods and products — ones that are healthier, more durable and require less energy to yield the same, or better, quality of life.

Today’s green homes are not necessarily the straw bale cottages or tipi-like yurts reminiscent of old-timey hippies living off the grid. An urban green home may look just about like any other, but the difference lives in the systemic design and material choices. Imagine a home with a roof topped with plants for natural cooling, window shades that double as solar generators, carpet made from renewable fibers, a system for reclaiming rainwater for use in toilets and geothermal heating and cooling. Smart design, as it were, is a big key to saving the planet.

As evident in the voices of those profiled here, green design is a tool for many things: cleaning up our waterways, revitalizing neighborhoods, addressing human health issues, finding a more authentic spirituality and — here’s the kicker — both making money and saving money. The list of those profiled here is just a sampling of citizens working to bring green design to Indianapolis. If these Circle City green design movers and shakers have their way, as energy costs rise and the costs of green technologies drop, eco-friendly construction will soon be the status quo.

—Anne Laker


Jennifer L. Roberts, engineer

“I think the most empowering approach is to combine the wisdom of the past with the technology of today,” says Jennifer Roberts, an engineer with a passion for harmonizing the natural environment with the built environment. Instead of fencing in a retention pond or piping run-off into creeks, engineers can look to nature’s designs for solutions. Pervious concrete pavement, for example, uses infiltration to purify stormwater run-off, just like a marsh. “We don’t have to go outside ourselves for ‘new’ information on green building,” Roberts says. She offers the example of rainwater harvesting as a sustainable practice our grandparents used — that anyone could do today.

A Purdue grad born in Southern Indiana, Roberts founded her company Elements Engineering, LLC in 2002. With 12 years experience in commercial, urban and residential site design, Roberts is currently working with a local developer to establish green standards for a large-scale reuse project. She’s also consulting with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, Inc. as it develops a new site in Fountain Square.

Roberts recently heard about a building expansion in Vancouver that will be 250 percent larger but will need just 60 percent of the energy used by the original building. “That innovative spirit is what I focus on. No one can deny the fact that we can design things better. The question is, why aren’t we?” —AL


Mac Williams, architect

Green architect Mac Williams remembers having two environmental epiphanies. One was attending a talk by pioneering architect William McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. “I thought, ‘Wow, this guy is on to something.’” The other epiphany wore diapers; Williams’ son was born in 1995. “I thought about what the world was going to be like for my kids, and I wanted to influence that.” Raised in upstate New York, Williams studied math and engineering before starting a second career as an architect. After working for several local firms, and obtaining his LEED certification, Williams struck out on his own this year, launching a new firm called INVERDE, Inc.

In addition to offering consultation on green design and support to clients looking to navigate the detailed LEED certification process, INVERDE is playing an education and advocacy role. Williams plans to help market LEED and train others in the LEED process. He’s also active in the USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) Indiana chapter that’s dedicated to serving building professionals who want to go green. Williams keeps tabs on community greening efforts by meeting with city officials, affordable home developers and others. As part of walking the walk, he’s even encouraging his congregation to go green.

Williams’ wish for Indianapolis? “Let’s invest in alternative energy incentives, light rail, stormwater runoff solutions, energy efficient buildings. As we try to market Indianapolis as a Super Bowl host and a world-class city, going green is a requirement.” —AL


Laurie Klinger, property owner

“We need to find ways to get known and improve the quality of life here,” says Laurie Klinger of Springdale, a near Eastside neighborhood not far from the area with the highest murder rate in the city. A Springdale resident since 1980, Klinger owns, rehabs and rents properties in the historic neighborhood. While she claims no authority on green building, she’s working hard to spark an alternative energy home showcase in Springdale because “any improvements here are worth doing.”

Inspired by a Polish tenant who described the solar-powered, highly-insulated homes in his home country, Klinger called a meeting to explore the idea of transforming one or more abandoned properties into showcase homes retrofitted with affordable, energy-efficient systems. Twenty people attended the meeting, including representatives from Purdue Energy Center, Indianapolis Power & Light and Great Indy Neighborhoods. Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana has been supportive as well, encouraging Klinger to gather the data to make a case for the project. Klinger’s work with Treasured Homes, an abandoned property rescue effort, keeps her aware of the many properties well worth saving.

Klinger doesn’t know if her vision for green renovations in Springdale will take root. “I’m not any kind of expert, or someone who lives 100 percent green,” she says. “I just think green housing is a direction everyone ought to be considering.” —AL


Matt Groshek, design professor

It’s easy to get motivated to protect the environment when it’s visible as a set of valued assets. Hence, the concept of a green map. Herron School of Art professor Matt Groshek is working with Indy Parks and others to produce a map of the city that highlights green spaces, green buildings, farmers markets and other sites of environmental or sustainable significance. “A green map is a global language of icons, a benchmark of assets that highlights the unique characteristics of this place,” Groshek says.

As public scholar of civic engagement, Groshek knows the potential of design to affect consciousness. “Most design is about looking at systems and how they work,” he says. Born and educated in Wisconsin, Groshek came to Indy in 2004. He’s excited by the emerging green consciousness in the Circle City. He’s initiated another project: a set of green neighborhood indicators, undertaken with fellow designer Pamela Schiff. “The indicators project is spurred on by the question of how people identify with sustainable practices and they demonstrate that involvement,” Groshek says. To wit: Neighbors see fellow neighbors recycling. A street with enough residents who recycle might be marked as a green street. The circle of influence spirals upward. Groshek is seeking input from many sources to help develop the green neighborhood indicators. Like all green efforts, he says, “The project is very localized but has global implications.” —AL


Sam Miller, philosopher

After practicing architecture for 25 years, leading the non-profit group Ecology House of Indianapolis, teaching courses on design and sustainability and rolling up his sleeves for green design projects, Sam Miller has a few thoughts on the subject. In a paper called “Transcending Sustainability: Seeking Design’s Alchemy,” Miller outlines a vision for the city and his design profession.

In Indianapolis 2040, the city looks more like a forest than an area of human habitation. Green roofs are alive with plants and the sparkle of solar panels. Commuter trains roll in and out of Union Station. Factories are camouflaged, integrated. The White River is alive with recreation. This vision, Miller notes, is possible now.

“To have our built environment intentionally mimic ecological systems would turn the classic human idea of controlling nature upside down,” he continues. “What if buildings were created in relation to each other like ecosystems that regulate the complex life within air, earth and water? The opportunity for lasting value in our design of buildings, spaces and communities lies in the fusion of ecological knowledge with our cultural traditions … As new structures are created, each would be considered in the context of its neighbors and inquire after opportunities for added synergism, diversity, energy production and increased delight.” Miller asks, with wonder and hope: “What if we thought of our built environment as being alive?” —AL


Joe Shoemaker, Realtor

Joe Shoemaker and his partners in Casa Verde, LLC are out to change the way residential housing is built. Casa Verde is a new real estate company working to develop LEED-certified residential properties in the King’s Park neighborhood on the near Eastside. Their projects are designed to show developers, home builders, city officials, lenders and homeowners that green design is marketable, profitable and good for you, too.

Along with design consultant David Kadlec, materials supplier/business owner Reid Litwack, executive coach Michael Sanders and construction expert Michael Greven, Shoemaker created Casa Verde to meet a demand — and make a point. As a Realtor, Shoemaker was fielding more and more inquiries about environmentally friendly construction, materials and neighborhoods, many from people moving here from other cities. The Casa Verde team is betting that once builders see the consumer demand, they’ll let go of the belief that green is too expensive.

“At some point the market and the movement converge,” Shoemaker says. “The dichotomy between what is economically viable and what is the right thing to do doesn’t need to exist.” —AL

Keni Washington, developer

Best known as one of Indy’s premier jazz musicians and composers, Keni Washington is switching his focus, at least for now, on global sustainability. According to Washington, his passion for environmental concerns began about 20 years ago when he began “connecting the dots between war and fossil fuel and asked myself, ‘Can I just play the saxophone and ignore what is going on?’”

That awakening resulted in his current quest for solving environmental problems by serving as managing director of Earth-Solar Technologies Corporation, a technology development company. “Our approach is to not only develop products but also product application that has to do with changing the paradigm of how energy is applied — how it’s obtained, how to distribute it and how it impacts a community,” says Washington, who is a principal of the company of which he is a founder.

A tangible manifestation of that approach is a new project called The Boulevard Plaza (www.boulevard-plaza.com), which the company is developing at 21st and Boulevard Place, one block north of Methodist Hospital, as a sustainable community. The development, to be powered entirely by solar energy, will include affordable residential studios, art, an organic restaurant, jazz club and cinema. The complex, situated in an area that was once a focal point of African-American life in Indianapolis, is also specifically designed to increase pedestrian access and safety in the immediate neighborhood. Keni Washington can be contacted at kwashington@esolartech.com. —TA

Ed Cohen, faith community organizer

Crediting his family and his own Jewish faith, Ed Cohen’s deep appreciation for the environment began early on. Terming it “Environmental Justice,” Cohen says, “It’s the fundamental thing you do. You don’t wear it on your sleeve. You just live it.” Cohen’s commitment to environmental concerns has continued through his professional career, during which he has focused on energy issues while working in the non-profit arena, state government and as a consultant.

Now Cohen’s focus on the environment extends itself through his efforts to convince faith communities to become “green congregations.” Care For Creation, sponsored by the Indianapolis Inter-Fa"


Recommended for you