Green Home Building and Sustainable Architecture

Sustainable architecture is an exciting and important field, with many people reviving traditional methods of building and others creating innovations to established practices. Kelly Hart, webmaster of the popular website, posts text and photos featuring what he discovers from around the world.

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Location: Crestone, Colorado, United States

Kelly Hart has been involved with green building concepts for much of his life. He has also worked in various fields of communication media, including still photography, cinematography, animation, video production and now website development. Kelly has lived in an earthbag/papercrete home that he built and consults about sustainable building design.

April 12, 2012

Building Sustainability: Graduate Programs and Sustainable Architecture

by guest blogger Brooke Folliot

Sustainability has quickly become a buzzword in business, news media and even pop culture for the past several years. While, most people have a vague idea that sustainability refers to a need to be careful with our resources, there is still a fair amount of confusion regarding what sustainability really means. Many businesses have begun touting sustainable building as a way of PR posturing, creating an image of empathy and humanity. Still, many academic organizations have begun to take sustainable building very seriously. For architecture and design students, and even those who are simply interested in living sustainably, a growing number of available resources are cropping up. Architecture and design graduate degree programs in the US and around the world are adapting their programs around a philosophy that fosters a greater appreciation of our limited resources.
Many of the schools with the most admired graduate programs should come as no surprise: Harvard University, Columbia, MIT and Yale are listed by Architectural Record as the most admired graduate programs. However, from a perspective of sustainable design practices, a list of schools that are still highly regarded, but a little more attainable for the average architecture student, are listed: University of Oregon, Virginia Polytechnic and State University and University of California, Berkeley are all acknowledged for their progressively-minded programs emphasizing sustainability. The Ivy league does seem to be heading in the same direction, with Yale recently adding a joint-degree program between the Architecture School and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
No doubt there are many people interested in sustainable building without the means or interest in pursuing a full architecture degree, and an increasing number of schools are catering directly to these students. Schools have begun offering free downloads of courses in architecture, urban design and engineering, and while these downloadable lectures offer no way to earn credits towards a degree, they offer anyone with an internet connection and an interest in sustainability the same lecture notes, videos and assignments as registered students. MIT, University of Notre Dame and Utah State University offer on-line lectures on Artchitecture, Art and Planning. University of Hong Kong even offers English language courses in sustainable architecture and energy-efficient design.
One problem sustainable building programs have had in the past is a lack of consensus on what sustainable building actually entails. In 2000 this issue was addressed with the creation of the LEED building certification. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Design. To receive LEED accreditation a building must meet the sustainability standards in materials, efficiency and energy usage created by the US Green Building Council. It is a straightforward way for companies to gauge how they compare to other buildings, and it also can act as a partial standard for universities to use in educating their students.
In the coming years, corporations and governments worldwide will be looking at updating their facilities to maximize sustainability. After all, while it sounds great from a PR standpoint for a business to proclaim they are 'Going Green!', in the end, sustainability means serious energy savings. According to the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Lighting, for example, the city has begun replacing their existing streetlight fixtures with LED units, which they claim will save energy by 40% every year and reduce maintenance costs. In the end, these measures mean serious savings for governments and companies. With sustainable building still a relatively new concept, the market seems to have large potential for growth, ensuring we will see more programs and more opportunities for architects, designers and laymen to learn and apply sustainable building at work and at home.

April 07, 2012

Passive Solar Architecture

Here is a hefty book with a lengthy title: Passive Solar Architecture: Heating, Cooling, Ventilation, Daylighting and More Using Natural Flows. Written by two veterans of the Passive Solar movement, David Bainbridge and Ken Haggard, this book actually exceeds the promise of the title; it covers everything mentioned plus quite a bit more.

Published in 2011, it is entirely current and relevant to our changing times regarding economic and ecological realities. For the authors “passive architecture” is an umbrella term that includes all dimensions of sustainability in the built environment. They say that, “For human survival and a livable future, the idea and application of sustainability must become part of an epochal cultural shift.” They do their best to nudge this shift along with the publication of this book.

According to the authors, “The failure of the current worldwide economic system is in large part a failure of accounting.” To address this failure, they advocate focusing on triple-bottom-line accounting which includes ecology, economy, and social equity. With this perspective all life-cycle costs over the service life of a building are taken into consideration, including all health and environmental costs.

This book is far from being just theoretical; they very quickly delve into the details of how to achieve a truly energy efficient building. Starting with how a building is situated in place and what materials choices are best, considering the microclimate of that place. The importance of exposure to sun and wind are fully investigated. Human comfort is critical to their thinking, and they make an excellent case that passive approaches to heating, cooling, and lighting yield greater comfort.

The conventional approach to providing heating and cooling during the era of cheap energy has been to simply leave this aspect of design up to a mechanical engineer, who would calculate the appropriate size and placement of an HVAC system. We can no longer afford to design buildings this way.

The interaction of solar gain, thermal mass and insulation is thoroughly explored, starting with the history of passive architecture. Many specific examples and construction details
are provided for both residential and larger scale projects. They stress the importance of finding just the right balance among all of the elements of a passive solar design.

It is rare that architects pay attention to ways to cool and ventilate a building using natural systems of air flow and thermal dynamics, but it is amazing how well this approach can work. This book analyzes strategies for using night time ventilation and radiation and evaporative cooling, as well as landscaping and green roofs or roof ponds. Wind catchers are an ancient way to help cool interior space.

Carefully planned use of natural day light can help save energy, keep space cooler, and make occupants more comfortable and productive. This is another aspect of architecture that has been largely neglected, but must be considered as we become more aware of how to live holistically. An entire chapter is devoted to ways of accomplishing passive lighting that are effective and aesthetically pleasing.

A survey of on-site resources that can be utilized include opportunities for providing solar hot water, the production of electricity, rainwater collection, gray-water use, and the useful processing of human waste. All of these strategies are examined in some detail. This book evaluates green materials and why to use them, both at the time of construction and at the end of the useful life of a building. This includes using recycled materials.

This book represents a valiant effort to comprehensively explore all aspects of sustainable architecture, and I commend the authors on an excellent job of doing just that. The only fault I noticed is that they fail to mention the value of earth-sheltering as a way to enhance all aspects of thermal performance in a building.

This book is lavishly illustrated in color with photos, diagrams and charts on practically every page. It would make an excellent text book, and I’m sure that the authors realize this since both of them are teachers.

The final chapters are a series of essays on integrated design by the authors and a selection of other experts. They say that, “the key to success with this integrated approach to environmental design is achieving synergy. Synergy happens where and when the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts, and the parts become optimized in relationship to the whole.” Let’s hope that we can all achieve such synergy as a collection of societies living on Earth.