Friday, 5 June 2009

‘Green’ architecture?

P3245894 hemicycle-diagram Designing buildings to meet their environmental context should be a basic skill (meet the solar hemicycle of the Second Jacobs House for example, or so much vernacular architecture), but for some reason in the earlier part of the modern movement the whole idea of designing shelter to fit its context was shunned as unfashionable, and now in the later part is forced upon us green-buildingas all but compulsory – but with little understanding of what exactly it might all mean, and far too little architecture that even does what it purports to.

“When in doubt plant a shrub” – or (these days) whack in a bloody wind turbine – or do some complicated bloody calculation – that’s about all so much of the dubious modern mantra amounts to to make the latest unattractive box conform to the latest “green” fashion.

Oh, and a lengthy sermon on the often imaginary benefits of all the extra expense.

skyscraper-wind-turbinesFrank Lloyd Wright reckoned that the job of architecture is “to make human life more natural, and nature more humane” – a job description that needs neither fashion nor compulsion to succeed, but which these days is made more difficult by both.

The bloggers at the Architecture + Morality site have a lengthy meditation on the problem which, if you’re at all interested, is worth your time to contemplate.  As they say,

    Much of what is considered responsible design is already green and has been so for the last 3,000 years. Siting the building to maximize natural daylighting and breezes while reliably sheltering occupants from the elements was fundamental since not doing so would make life indoors extremely unbearable and a threat to health. Stale air, excessive heat, mold, water-borne diseases, and smoke inhalation from cooking fires were the consequences of from a failure to design according to traditional 'green' principles. 
    If designing green is nothing new, how come is it seen as the next big thing?

A fair question.  And why is the compulsion behind “designing green” killing what is – or should be – mostly just basic environmental common sense?


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  2. Very aptly said. Your have in a clear cut way posed a very relevant question.

    People keep on jostling over modern and irrelevantly innovative designs to ensure green construction, yet fail to achieve the desired purpose.

    Making use of construction material such as steel, metal and wood can also result in making buildings eco-friendly.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Kirk J. Steel

  3. Good post PC. I read your source article and agreed with a lot of what the guy says - in particular it is true that to some extent 'green-ness' imparts a quality of virtue which I'm sure some unscrupulous folks abuse to sell in expensive and needless extras. God knows I have seen it often enough with reps touting one 'green' aspect of an otherwise entirely environmentally unfriendly product in order to punt it on to architects eager to boost their own 'green' status (especially here in Sweden). That process is known as 'greenwashing).

    But the distinction that needs to be made within green architecture is between the simple need for maximisation of the natural environment that you talk about (ie siting, solar access, air movement etc) which as you rightly say isn't 'green' architecture, it's just competent architecture. To me green architecture is more about minimising energy usage over a building's lifetime through usage of well-chosen materials, designing for ease of reuse, and a whole raft of other factors.

    Whilst a lot of buildings claim 'green' status that have hardly earned it (exacerbated by the Green Star system or whatever it's called now, which I think is fundamentally flawed) - this shouldn't contribute to a far-too narrow description of what green architecture is. I think that both your and the source article author's definition is too narrow, encompassing only those aspects of building to do with the building's immediate context.



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