“In the West, the myths of technology and progress are being replaced by a concern for the environment, for ecology. Man’s thoughts, actions- and architecture- will change to reflect this,”
Architecture has started as a means of sustenance and journeyed through time- as a means of expression, a form of power, a status symbol. In this journey, the world realised the power architecture holds in itself to impact what surrounds it. So, when climate and environment were endangered, all eyes looked up to architecture to be the harbinger of the revolution.
Green architecture became a ‘thing’ around the 1960s when the building industry decided that it will be a little more conscious of its impacts on the environment. The building contributes almost forty percent of the factors causing environmental degradation, majorly through the waste produced during the manufacture of materials and the construction process itself.
What was earlier considered ‘primitive’ has now become a mainstream idea of the design world. As is with every new idea, in the beginning, the definition of green and sustainable is still a little foggy. The general population and even most architects have associated many misconceptions with green architecture. The following are the five most common myths about green building practices that need to be debunked.
1. Green is not cheap
Green building is believed by many to be a complicated affair involving a lot of investment. Green architecture isn’t an additive to the conventional building system but a reformation of it. This myth started to make rounds as the first few certified green buildings were noticed to be over budget by double the initial estimate in some cases.
Bob Fox of Cookfox Architects tackles this problem by starting with free- daylight, wind, and water resources. “Start with understanding the free things, and how to access them effectively, and you’ve got a project,” says Jodi Smits Anderson, quoting Bob, “There is also this same idea in an existing building. Identify what works and what exists that can be ‘tweaked’ for greater control of energy, better health of occupants, more durability and more beauty.” Alex Wilson, the president of Building Green Inc. in Vermont says, “The simple fact is that there are plenty of strategies for inexpensive green building, from right-sizing structure to optimal value engineering to reducing waste, among many others.”
2. Green is not beautiful
“Green and sustainability have nothing to do with architecture. Some of the worst buildings I have seen are done by sustainable architects,” said Peter Eisenman, Professor in Practice at the Yale School of Architecture. Some of the initial green buildings don’t seem to comply with the notions of ‘beauty’ and have become the image of green architecture.
This one is tough to crack, much like the idea of beauty itself. The idea of beauty in a building involves beauty in use and connection to nature and the community. Architect Lance Hosey, in his book The Shape of Green: Aesthetics, Ecology and Design, talks about how architects can “follow lessons of sustainability to their logical conclusion” and inspire more designers to reconsider their choices to include considerations of the form and image.
3. Green is in the Technology
A ‘green building’ conjures up images of a building with solar roofs, wind turbines, and smart energy-saving mechanisms in a building. But that is not the extent of a green building. Using advanced technology doesn’t assure a better environmental performance- solar panels are expensive and not very effective if the region does not receive a substantial amount of sunlight. Appliances with green ratings are effective, but only to a certain extent. They need to be incorporated with design elements like open plans and passive design elements to be at par with their intended potential.
4. Green is slow
The notion of ‘additional’ research, analysis, and hunt for alternatives to conventional construction materials involved in the green building process has led architects to believe that green consumes a lot of time which is not affordable with the limited schedules and fees.
When RTKL designed one of the largest LEED Gold office buildings for their Federal Government, the team finished almost a year early and the construction was completed almost four months in advance. The process of design and construction doesn’t need to be prolonged to be green, it simply needs to be more considerate.
5. Green is in the material
Green building is not about using all-natural and recycled materials. No material is green in itself; that depends on how the material is manufactured and how it is used. Many new kinds of concrete harm the environment almost negligibly while excessive use of timber and bamboo can deteriorate the condition. It is the way the material is procured and used that defines its impact on the environment. Providing an intermediate space around the living areas as a protective envelope from heating or even the clay brick, if arranged in a rat-trap bond, instead of the conventional Flemish and English bonds, can create a significant difference in the energy consumption and hence the performance of a building.
A building doesn’t create an impact just during its construction but throughout its whole life. Architects need to understand that the ‘go-green’ in architecture is not just about installing solar panels or other green technology without thoroughly thinking about the consequences. The Green Building process is well-thought-out with a sensitivity towards the site, its features, advantages, and requirements. It is not just the construction materials that make a difference in the environmental impact of a building, but things as basic as the location of a building, in terms of accessibility and feasibility of construction, help in determining its impact on the surroundings.
A Green Building is not tough, or complicated or expensive. It is actually about how much you, as a designer of spaces, or a user of them, are resolved to take on the responsibility of improving the present condition of the planet.