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ILFI Unconference 2019
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ILFI Unconference 2019

Marloes Reinink and Gavin Westbrook were fortunate enough to attend the Living Future unConference 2019 in Seattle Washington. Here, Gavin Westbrook shares his experience of the event, which is a chance to see what projects are underway, what new technologies and ideas are developing, and how to do it yourself.


Seattle is a beautiful city that has a reputation for being a bit different. Music, design, environmentalism, old school craftsmanship and self reliance are a few areas in which Seattle and the Pacific NorthWest have created new trends that have spread across the world. The culture is diverse and includes local tribes and immigrants from Ireland and Germany. From the futuristic Space Needle built in the 60’s, the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) and the Chihuly Glass Gardens to the urban street life, the scenic Bainbridge Island and the Olympic Mountains Park, Seattle has everything to set itself apart as a great city to be in.

Chihuly Glass Garden

Hosted by the ILFI (International Living Future Institute) in their home city, the unConference 2019 took place from 30th April to 3rd May. My first event, on the Tuesday, was ‘Demystifying the Materials Petal: A workshop on Achieving Certification’. The Material Petal from the LBC (Living Building Challenge) standard is arguably the hardest credit to achieve as it asks so many questions that have never been asked before about the constituent elements of buildings. The LBC uses the precautionary principle that all materials must be proven safe BEFORE they can be used, which is in stark contrast to the way in which most products are used. The workshop dealt with the technicalities of the credit, what tools to use to make it easier, where to find resources, and gave us a few exercises to test out what we had learnt – a very valuable workshop indeed!

From collaboration workshop

On Wednesday, Marloes and I toured the Bullitt Centre in the morning and then attended the International Summit in the afternoon. The summit was a small group of LBC Ambassadors from many countries around the world – including the UK, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Mexico and, of course, South Africa. Through meeting the other participants and discussing challenges in different markets, it was interesting to see how some things we find very hard are very easy for other countries, simply because of the way geography and historic development have taken place.

The Opening Reception was later that night and the main speaker was renowned environmentalist, author, and journalist Bill McKibben, followed by a ‘15 Minutes of Brilliance’ presentation featuring climate change activist Jamie Margolin. McKibben shared his views on the world today, where we are heading and what we can do about it. His new book, called ‘Falter. Has the human game begun to play itself out?’, is definitely on my reading list.

15 minutes of brilliance speakers

Margolin is a 17-year-old climate and social justice advocate from Seattle, and the founder of Zero Hour. She spoke about the need to include historically marginalised communities in the climate challenge to ensure that they are not left behind by progress and that they are not the ones to bear the brunt of the negative consequences of our ecological, societal and economic history.

Thursday started with group yoga, followed by a morning keynote by Amanda Sturgeon, CEO of the ILFI, and a ‘15 Minutes of Brilliance’ presentation featuring Sara Sanford. Sturgeon updated everyone on the progress of the ILFI, the industry and goals for the future. Sanford, the founder of GEN (Gender Equity Now), runs the GEN certification which rates how companies perform with regard to gender equity. She spoke about the challenges and successes she has seen and what work is being done to achieve more gender equity.

The first session of the day was ‘Collaborative Intelligence for Sustainability Project Teams’. The idea behind this session was to create more ideas, faster, and more creatively in design charrettes. We ran through the theory of different approaches and tried them out in practice. The approaches tried to deal with common group work problems; and the session was uncomfortable, fun and very useful.

‘Creating a Zero Carbon City: Putting Policy into Practice’ was a panel discussion that addressed the challenges of implementing new policies to address climate change and resource protection. ‘Lifting the Lid: Designing and Delivering an Effective LBC Tour’ was quite an informative session given by people that run building tours on a regular basis for LBC certified projects. As Public Education is a credit in the LBC, this is an important aspect that projects need to address.

The Friday morning keynote, again after yoga and breakfast, was given by Mary Robinson and the ‘15 Minutes of Brilliance’ featured Mark Chambers. Robinson is the former (and first female) president of The Republic of Ireland and has done a lot of work for environmental and social justice causes around the world. She is founder of the Mary Robinson Foundation, which focuses on climate justice, and has written a book called ‘Climate Justice’.

Chambers, the Chief Sustainability Officer for New York City, spoke about the two major challenges facing the city – climate change and social inequality. New York has been experiencing more frequent and damaging extreme weather events, and the people that are worst hit are those who are least equipped to deal with the consequences. NY has launched several projects to clean up its energy, make the city more efficient and support the people who need help by improving public infrastructure and access to resources.

‘A Celebration of the Senses’ covered the idea that we do not currently design our spaces using all of the available aspects of human experience – Geometric/Tectonic, Light, Thermal, Acoustic, Olfactory, Haptic, Personal, and Cultural aspects. These spaces should be designed so that people can move around to experience and be stimulated by variations in light, sound, texture and temperature.

‘Delivering the World’s most Sustainable Shopping Centre’ explored the Burwood Brickworks in Melbourne, a new shopping centre built on the site of an old brick yard. The vision was industry leadership in terms of sustainability and innovation; and the goal was to achieve an LBC rating while achieving the same financial returns as on other projects – with the intention that this way of developing will become the new normal.

‘If You Can Only Do One Thing: Using the COTE Toolkit to Elevate Every Project’ looked at the COTE Top Ten Toolkit, a new resource that documents design best practices along the broad spectrum of sustainability measures. The idea is to get the right information delivered to the right people at the right time, as an incredibly effective way to improve performance. The tool is designed to save professionals time and address the most important aspects of sustainable design.

Every evening of the unConference featured a networking party held at various locations across the city. Quite a nice surprise was that vegan options were provided at all breakfasts and lunches, via local food trucks in the hotel car park. A definite highlight was meeting Amanda Sturgeon, Jason McLennan and all the wonderful staff at the ILFI with whom we have been conversing via email for so long. Both the unConference and Seattle were inspiring – I will be back!

Local craft resturant

Old Stove Brewery – final night function

Mount Renier seen from the plane

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