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The Dirty Side to Clean Buildings

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Life of an Architect Podcast

The Dirty Side to Clean Buildings

In this episode, we're talking about Material Health and Transparency as it pertains to the practice of architecture: what it's all about, why it's important, and the architect’s professional obligation related to building products.

March 8, 2021
The Dirty Side to Clean Buildings
The Dirty Side to Clean Buildings

Today we are going to talk about Material Health and Transparency as it pertains to the practice of architecture, what this is all about, why it is important, as well as ask the question “What is the Architect’s Professional Obligation here?” To help us with this topic, we have a special guest joining us on today’s show … Welcome to episode 70 “The Dirty Side to Clean Buildings.”



For today’s episode, we have invited Architect, Registered Interior Designer, LEED AP, and Associate at Perkins & Will, and the most qualified person I know to discuss today topic: Tori Wickard.

Tori grew up in a small town in East Texas and followed her father’s footsteps to the University of Texas at Austin and completed her Professional Residency Program at Kohn Pederson Fox in London. During her time in London and her travels abroad, she developed a keen interest in other cultures, deep respect for the planet, and a stronger sense of the interconnectedness of its inhabitants. After the passing of her mother to breast cancer in 2014, Tori has become a passionate advocate of transparency and optimization around building materials. She co-directs the Material Performance Taskforce in the Dallas Studio of Perkins & Will and serves on the Advisory Board for the American Cancer Society North Texas Area. She firmly believes as an architect it’s her mission to creatively address challenges in the built environment, which includes consideration of environmental and human health impacts.

Phthalates and Body Burden jump to 07:39
Hormone-disrupting chemicals such as phthalates and bisphenols are used to alter the characteristics of plastics, including making plastics more rigid or more flexible. They are so commonly used that they contribute to our Body Burden and can harm our health.

“Body Burden” is the cumulative effect on your body of constant exposure to chemicals of concern from many sources. Your body is burdened by many synthetic chemicals and pollutants ranging from shampoo to skincare products, deodorant, laundry detergent, etc. The substances may remain present for many years after the exposure has been removed. Oftentimes, building occupants do not realize they are exposed to synthetic chemicals that were created for the building industry and installed in buildings.

Lack of Regulation jump to 17:53
The Toxic Substances Control Act was enacted in 1976 to give the US EPA the authority to evaluate chemicals. There are currently more than 86,000 chemicals in the US, growing daily, and relatively few have been thoroughly assessed for human health and environmental risks. The federal government has had relatively little oversight over most of the chemicals in commerce. Many chemicals in the TSCA inventory include those used in the building industry to improve product performance, durability, efficiency, and aesthetics.

Fenceline Communities jump to 24:01
The term “fenceline community” refers to those communities that are negatively impacted by nearby manufacturing processes and manufacturing. Those communities in the US that are in close proximity to plants emitting hazardous waste are disproportionately inhabited by low-income families and people of color. The area along the Mississippi River, from Baton Rouge south to New Orleans, where many petrochemicals are manufactured is known as Cancer Alley. This area has the highest incidence rates of cancer in the US.

Petrochemical by-products are used to make other products including but not limited to, adhesives, caulks, coatings, paints, gaskets, window extrusions, wall coverings, window treatments, insulation, sealants, vapor barriers, waterproofing, piping, flooring, membrane roofing, and artificial turf.

Another well-known fenceline community is Parkersburg, West Virginia, where Dupont used PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) to manufacture Teflon® for many years despite known health and environmental hazards were observed in workers and the surrounding community.

Library Protocols - jump to 49:40
In an effort to empower designers with transparent product information, the Material Performance Taskforce at the Perkins & Will Dallas studio, asks manufacturers to share information about substances in their products. The team identifies and color-codes optimized products which do not contain substances on the Perkins & Will Precautionary List. The Precautionary List is a compilation of chemicals of concern that are relevant to the built environment. Used as a filter to screen toxic chemicals from product selections, it is a powerful tool to aid the designer in finding sources of these hazards in order to avoid them.

Resources (mentioned in the episode):
Mindful Materials
Material Bank
Sustainable Minds

Would you rather? - jump to 56:01
And on that, we are going to bring the educational portion of today’s episode “The Dirty Side of Clean Buildings” to a close, and move on to the “Would you Rather” question – which is particularly well-timed given the polar apocalypse that as of this recording we are slowly clawing our way out of here in Texas. Tori has bravely agreed to participate in today’s question, and as per typical, we are going to make her answer first since this is her first time on the show.

"Would you rather be really cold, or really hot? And to clarify, we are talking temperature, not attitude or physical appearances."

The good news is that 2 of us answered correctly, one of us completely blew it.

If you only read today’s post and didn’t listen to the podcast I would encourage you to add that to your to-do list. Tori Wickard was a terrific guest and is incredibly knowledgeable on this subject and we feel to have had her as a guest. Material Transparency is a topic that I admittedly knew very little about prior to my prep work for this episode. I have a few people in my own office that are passionate about this subject and are always willing to take a moment and share some insight, personal experiences, and knowledge on the topic and it doesn’t take long to realize that there is so much to learn and that this is a journey best taken with others. If you have any questions, please post them in the comment section and we will do our best to find the answers for you.

Cheers my friends –


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