Green Architecture’s New Goal: Affordable But Stylish Sustainability

by | Jul 14, 2008

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2030.jpgThe number of sustainable buildings has soared in the past years and along with it, the market in green-building products and services has increased to more than $12 billion today from around $7 billion in 2005.

The 2030 Challenge, proposed by New Mexico architect, Edward Mazria, is aiming to eliminate fossil-fuel-based energy use in all U.S. buildings by 2030. It may seem impossible, but Mazria says it can be achieved by building smaller houses that require less energy, Washington Posts reports.

Currently 25 percent of building-related greenhouse gas is produced on-site by fossil-fuel-burning furnaces and water heaters. The rest is produced off-site by the local utility that generates electricity.

Mazria says the majority of his initial 50 percent reduction of greenhouse emissions could be met by simply focusing on reducing the heating requirements for houses.

The first step is to reduce a house’s size.

Next would be to find greenhouse reductions in houses built before central heating and air conditioning. The basic building shapes underneath the embellishments offer practical responses to the local climate.

Mazria’s third recommendation is for houses to orientate the main living areas southward, so heat from the sunlight can be tapped during the day.

The final step would be to switch from conventional heating, cooling, and hot water equipment to those fueled by renewable sources, which can be costly.

Mazria acknowledges that some requirements may not be on par with 21st century comfort and aesthetic levels, and could be more expensive; posing a new challenge for many architects.

Norman Weinstein writes in the Christian Science Monitor:

 A beautiful green building requires a team effort to juggle the potentially conflicting values of utility, beauty, cost, durability, and sustainability. In a perfect world where the building owner has buckets of money, these values might only minimally clash, and the trade-offs between sustainability and aesthetics might be minor. For example, if you have enough money to install a hardwood floor for your home, you can use a green material such as bamboo (which takes seven years to mature compared with oak’s 120 years). But like other ecofriendly materials that possess an exotic beauty, the best ecological choice may well be costlier than the more commonly used oak.

While it remains a challenge for many green architects, Weinstein offers some examples of innovative designs for both residential and commercial use that integrates the best of both worlds. Two examples are a “quilted” sculptor’s studio-living in British Columbia, which integrates recycled material with new cedar, and Sanyo Corporation’s solar energy interactive museum.

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