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Building Better Buildings

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Here’s something we know we have to fix, and we mostly know how to fix it.

I’m talking about the buildings in which we live and work. They play a big role in heating the planet. In some cities, they’re the biggest single source of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

New laws in a handful of cities, including mine, New York, now compel building owners to reduce those emissions or face fines. The European Union recently enacted a law that requires all buildings to be zero-emissions by the middle of the century.

I wanted to learn more about all this. So I reached out to John E. Fernandez, an architect and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Airtight equals efficiency

Not long ago, I went to see an office building under construction in downtown Boston. On what was once a city-owned parking lot, Millennium Partners Boston, a developer, had erected a 21-story, 800,000-square-foot tower called the Winthrop Center. Fernandez was a consultant on the project.

Its 10-foot, floor-to-ceiling windows were triple-pane, oriented to let in sunlight. The walls had a 4-inch…

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