A house is a house is a house. They typically include spaces for sleeping, cooking, and all the other tasks involved with living. The walls are vertical, the floors are horizontal, and the roof is somewhere in between. It’s a great place to keep you and your stuff out of the elements. The interiors become a reflection of the tastes and design sense of the inhabitants, and the exterior is a reflection of the tastes and design sense of the developer. So is there a problem designing and constructing a house – the interior as well as the exterior and any green features – that is too unique?
And by unique I don’t mean style. Visit any recent New Urbanism neighborhood (despite its location within the country) and you’ll find Victorians adjacent to Tudors adjacent to Georgian adjacent Egyptian adjacent to Santa Barbara adjacent to Inuit. What I mean by unique is a construction method that’s part ad-hoc and part regionalism. This method saves materials from being placed in a landfill, responds well to the local climate (thus saving energy), and saves lots of money. It sounds like a win-win situation, but could you get it financed?
The largest influence on our cities and neighborhoods isn’t designers, or building code officials, or contractors, or even city planners – it’s the banker. All of our stores and homes and offices follow the golden rule – he who has the gold makes the rules. Everything we build has to be financed, and the bankers lending that money don’t like different and unpredictability.
This article is a great example of being too different is not financially feasible, at least in the eyes of a (gross generalization) banker. It’s the reason that for the last twenty years our neighborhoods look the same, our strip malls look the same, and our office buildings look the same. (Funny how the primary engine for capitalism has led to a built environment that embodies a communistic appearance of sameness and blandness – just my two cents.)
A house should be as unique as the location it’s built and its inhabitants, despite the golden rule.
Green is everywhere, and everyone and their mother is touting just how green they are and how green they can make you. It seems that every type of business – from oil corporations to pet food makers – are marketing themselves as good for the planet.
The same marketing fervor is evident in the construction industry as well. Companies that make building materials, HVAC systems, and even floor plan magazines (as what I posted here) are selling themselves in a greener shade simply because that’s what their marketing department is telling them to do. People want to be greener and more ecologically responsible. And where you have high demand, you also have high sham.
The LA Times has a nice list of Green Myths. This list includes items that not only persuade you to go with a greener solution, but there are some examples that are meant to deter you from going green (and going with something else that someone is selling you).
This is just something to ponder the next time you see or hear a claim that CFLs (compact fluorescent light bulbs) are better for you. These are the instructions from Energy Star (a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy Program) for cleaning up a broken fluorescent bulb (see near the end of page two of this document):
1.) Before clean-up: Air out the room
– Have people and pets leave the room, and don’t let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.
– Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
– Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.
Can you think of anything else that is good for the environment that requires you (and your pets) to leave the room for 15 minutes in case of breakage? Being “green” sometimes (and by sometimes I mean almost every single time) focuses on one aspect of a product/design/strategy that provides benefits over the status quo, but sometimes those benefits are evened out by the negative attributes of the product/design/strategy.
CFLs use much less energy than incandescent light bulbs, but are not nearly as efficient as LEDs. The color rendition CFL is different from incandescent and LED bulbs (CFLs typically produce a warmer light, which to my dismay made the butterscotch-like colored walls in my house appear more like a puke-green). And CFLs cost a little more than incandescents, which means it’s much much cheaper than LEDs.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t replace your incandescent bulbs with CFLs. A large amount of energy would be conserved if everyone used CFLs. I’m merely offering information to ponder – that green comes in many shades.
I came across this article this morning about “green” burials at a cemetery in Fort Collins, Colorado, where it has devoted an acre to people wanting to be buried without being embalmed or being placed in a vault. I love the quote about how this method of burial returns to the days or yore (at least back to the days of the early settlers in Colorado) where you wrapped up grandma in a blanket and buried her (presuming that she had already passed away before burying her).
I guess I never quite understood why anyone would want his or her remains to last for eons after passing away, unless of course your entombed body held the clue to a large treasure or contained hints as to the secrets of a popular religion (I’m looking right at you Knights Templar). Whether you prefer the religious view of creation or the scientific view, the same idea goes for both – we were created from the small building blocks of life, and thus we should probably return back to the same small building blocks of life after we pass away.
Like most “green” trends this may be just another way to charge a premium for receiving a service labeled as responsible and sustainable. But at least at its core this method for burial refers back to this idea that most (if not all) of our approaches for living on this planet can be improved by understanding how nature solves our same problems. (Here’s a previous article I wrote going back to the idea of how our problems can be potentially solved by nature.)
And isn’t the point of creating a sustainable environment for our society to create objects, things, buildings, and everything else so that when these items are no longer required they break down into small building blocks again to be reused as something else? May everything we create follow the cycle of ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Tis the season for purging all of our holiday garbage. I just came across the St. Jude’s website that will hopefully be beneficial for anyone with holiday greeting cards still lying around. They’ve created a recycled card program that reuses the front of any greeting card and creates a new card. You benefit by keeping your cards from a landfill, and St. Jude’s benefits by teaching children lessons about sustainability and from selling the reused cards to better promote the program.
When you think of sustainable architecture one of the first images that may come to your mind are the houses and other buildings from the 1960’s and 70’s that appear more to be diagrammatic designs than inspiring architecture, with their clerestory windows facing south and the giant trombe wall. Or even the Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome house was to be be more efficient with energy consumption and use of construction materials. The geodesic dome house also incorporated the ability to be constructed off-site which would decrease the time to construct it and better utilize materials and labor.
I believe that sustainable architecture goes so much further than just specifying bamboo flooring and using recycled content. Sustainability is creating a modus operandi that replenishes itself, making the system stronger and more intelligent, without any part of the system deteriorating. The more you implement the system the better the system becomes, and the better everything else affected by the system becomes as well.