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Green Architecture

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What is “Green Architecture”?  Is it becasue it is Green Painted? or buildings with Greenhouses?  No, no such thing….

You probably saw on TV or read in newspapers stories about “Green Building” or “Green Architecture” or may be “Sustainable Architecture” or “Sustainable Building”.  All of these titles mean pretty much the same. Green Architeture is often associated with some trend or type of Buildings that may seem beyond reach for an average consumer.  It may seem as something imposed on people,  bringing changes to life’s routine or lifestyle.  Not really.

Green Architecture can be defined as “Buildings that through their designs utilize recycled and renewable materials” – this makes them green.  In addition it is a specific design approach to conserve energy and even sent surplus back to local power company.  Such scenario also qualifies as Green Architecture.   Why is it “green” than?  I believe it is in some way an analogy to nature’s predominant Green color. This “Green” slogan  became popular several years ago, when saving trees and preserving natural environment became hot topic.   Recently with the advent of political discourse about renewable energy sources, many industries undergo, to some extent, methamorphosis process to adopt and adapt to these new directions. Here in California, Architecture and Building Industries stand in forefront of the Green Building direction, which is also part of the California regulatory measures.

Saving energy and resources is a good thing. Buildings contribute to high Energy Consupmtion and extensive use of Resources. Buildings in the USA consume about 40% of the total Energy production.   Saving as much as possible, by responsible and rational design measures is good for the pocket and the environment. I believe that Architects should chart new path to find new true solutions, rather than only responding to basic jurisdictional requirements or incorporating some of the so called green materials into their process and feeling good about it.  Understanding this, entire design mind set and  approach should change.  Same time the Change is not that bad nor much different from what we are used to do and have done for centuries building wise.

Green Architecture starts with the Site.  First is your site’s orientation, which defines where the glazing, solid insulated wall, roof type should be, not only view wise but energy loss/gain wise. With this thinking, in Cold climates Southern glazing can be vast and gaining as much sun energy as possible while storing it actively in the solar panels or passively in the Concrete floor Slabs.  In warm climates southern glazing would need to be shaded to prevent heat gain thus reducing HVAC output.  If the site is sloped, pad should not be cut (it uses a lot of energy to accomplish and chages sites natural drainage / vegetation).  So new designs should follow natural site slope to maintain harmony with the existing land configuration.  Resulting Building will be organically tied to the site and its celestial origin.  Next if feasible it is important to retain existing vegetation and build around.  Just imagine a tree growing in the middle of the building, inside a courtyard….

Your building should use energy saving devices, approaches and materials that are trully recycled or renewable.  However one has to be pragmatic.  When building new or remodeling try to recycle as much as possible, try to preserve as much as possible.  It can produce unique solutions that will simply present themselves as you plan.  We live in the 21st Century and some building materials serve their purpose for our way of life, in a modern world superbly.  But these are often made with use of Oil or Coal.  That is okay.   We can not just stop using these fuels or by-products.  Otherwise our safety and progress would be retarded.  For example we do not see any time soon a roof membrane or building wrap to be created out of some other material than polymer or asphalt and these are made from Oil.

Going further into the system, Building Insulation should be placed on the outside of the building envelope for best protectin from cold or heat.

Building with wood is customary and wood is a renewable resource.  With the advent of Southern Pine, that grows fast, we will have a lot of this great material in perpetuity.  But is  wood really good?.  Wood rots, it serves as a meal for termites. Neighborhoods built with wood do not last centuries, they vanish…so does the culture of the area…. Well, what would be the alternative?  Steel is such one.  It is fully recycled and recyclable, specially here in the good  ol’US of A.  Steel is strong, does not decay, “insectis break their teeth on it”.  It lasts virtually forever.   Instead of cutting trees, use metal in construction.  But some may say: melting steel uses energy. Yes it does, but it uses less energy than melting steel from iron ore.  Remeber recycling steel in yearly terms saves enough energy to power 18 million homes.  To offset the energy in a foundry, you can plant more trees to absorb CO2 and create oxygen. These solutions are not so bad and not so out of main street. Would you agree?  Plus building Ggreen will save costs, at time of construction and long term.

In some of my designs, in my Practice, we have taken a step out of the box by using Rice Straw Bales in combination with Recycled Steel.  Rice Straw bale is wonderful, natural alternative to Polymer Insulation.  It is a by-product of Rice Harvest. We will always have plenty of it.   It can not be burnt nor used as feed for animals-it’s mostly silica.   Buildings with this medium look really cool and are super insulated to R-54.  Walls are thicker, evoking an old world charm with super sound insulation. People living in these stuctures are very happy and love to talk about their trully green buildings.  But hey are not only ones who are happy….their pocket books are “happy” too.  Energy consumption bills drop dramatically to super low levels, which is also a good thing.  So both “greens” go together.

I believe that everyone is “Green” to some extent and pretty happy about results.

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