Community buildings take center stage at Greenbuild Boston (USGBC Northern California) | U.S. Green Building Council
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A member of the winning 2017 Malcolm Lewis Award project team shares what inspired her at Greenbuild and in their project.

Feature image: Parkwood Tech Centre team members Morgan Abbett (HDR), Marveliz Santos (Plant Construction), Adrienne Johnson (Point Energy Innovations), and Christine Li (Lucid) receiving the Malcolm Lewis IMPACT! Award at Greenbuild in Boston on November 9, 2017.

As a San Francisco resident and young professional in the AEC industry, I find myself captivated by the megaprojects going up all around me. With ambitious environmental and human health goals, buildings like the Transbay Terminal and Salesforce Tower seem like the sustainable projects of the future.

But after the recent week at Greenbuild 2017, I am reminded that these skyline-changing projects only make up one piece of the growing green building portfolio. Sustainability is just as important for smaller, humbler buildings that provide critically important services, like homes for low-income families, workspaces for small and medium-sized enterprises and centers for community organizations. These buildings are the anchors of our neighborhoods, and they were highlighted throughout Greenbuild’s educational sessions, keynote presentations and a summit dedicated to the topic of communities and affordable homes.

I owe my own trip to Greenbuild in Boston to a sustainable community building. The Parkwood Tech Centre is a net-positive energy computer center in South Africa that I helped bring to life alongside Bay Area AEC professionals Adrienne Johnson, Christine Li and Marveliz Santos. While attending Stanford, our team of all-women engineers learned of Bottomup, an education nonprofit in Cape Town that needed a safe, healthy space at a local school to run its impactful programs.

Adrienne Johnson and Morgan Abbett at the Parkwood Tech Centre

Adrienne Johnson and Morgan Abbett on site at the Parkwood Tech Centre in November 2017.

Over the next three years, we designed a new building, raised funds for our $80,000 budget, and managed construction of the center, which opened its doors in February 2017. Thanks to votes from the USGBC Northern California community, we won the 2017 Malcolm Lewis IMPACT! Award at Greenbuild.

As part of the award, anonymous friends of Malcolm Lewis gave the project $8,000, the largest annual contribution since the IMPACT! award started. This donation will allow us to outfit the center with laptops and provide young learners—and an entire community—with the first public computer access in their neighborhood.

Parkwood Tech Centre

Solar PV system on the rooftop of the Parkwood Tech Centre in Cape Town, with Parkwood Primary School learners below.

In addition to the award ceremony, I attended the Communities and Affordable Homes Summit, an all-day event that focused on strategies to improve equity and resiliency in the disadvantaged neighborhoods that need it most. I learned about the innovative work being done at Sonoma Academy, a private high school in the North Bay that provides more financial aid than any similar institution in the area.

Students at Parkwood Tech Centre

Students at Parkwood Tech Centre.

On Thursday, I listened to Bill Clinton give a keynote speech that advised us to “always get caught trying.” It took that spirit of perseverance and pushing boundaries to complete the Parkwood Tech Centre. I know that the USGBC Northern California community is full of determined professionals who live by that philosophy and strive to make a positive difference in our neighborhoods, no matter what critics say.

After the past week at Greenbuild, I feel especially proud to be part of the progressive, generous USGBC community here. And I am more inspired than ever to keep working to honor Malcolm Lewis, Bill Worthen and other philanthropic community leaders who have paved the way for projects like ours.