Large buildings are not energy efficient. Buildings dictate 65% of electricity consumption, 36% of total energy use and 30% of greenhouse-gas emissions. Constructing of more energy-efficient buildings can have a significant impact on energy policy. That is the key goal of the “green architecture” movement, which is altering the way buildings are being planned, constructed and maintained.
The combination of green design practices and clever expertise can not only decrease energy consumption and environmental impact, but also
- Reduce operating costs
- Create a pleasant working environment
- Improve employees’ health and productivity
- Reduce legal liability
- Boost property values and rental returns
- Save the environment
The term “green architecture” only came into use in the 1990s. Earlier architects used roof ventilators and underground air-cooling chambers to control the indoor temperature. Today’s passion for green architecture has its origins in the energy crisis of the 1970s when massive cooling systems were required to cool a building.
The forward-thinking architects began to reconnoiter designs that focused on the long-term environmental impact of preserving and operating a building. This approach has since been made official in a number of assessment and evaluation systems, such as the BREEAM standard introduced in Britain in 1990, and the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards developed by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) starting in 2000.
The LEED standards are envisioned to harvest “the world’s greenest and best buildings” by giving developers a forthright checklist of criteria by which the greenness of a building can be adjudicated. Classification of buildings in this way reveals how inefficient traditional buildings and building processes were.
Green architecture is becoming a mainstream. In the spring of 2003, a 624,000-square-foot office complex in Torrance, California was completed by Toyota, which received a LEED gold rating, thanks to the addition of solar cells to provide up to 20% of the building’s energy needs.
Pittsburgh opened the doors on its 1.5m-square-foot convention center, the largest building to be awarded a gold LEED rating so far. The USGBC says nearly 1,700 buildings in 50 states are now seeking LEED certification and 137 have been built and qualified so far. And America’s General Services Administration, which oversees all non-military government construction, recently pronounced that all new projects and renovations must meet the minimum LEED standards.
Shift towards green architecture
In Britain 70 office buildings constructed during 2003 met the BREEAM standard. Similar standards have been adopted in New Zealand, Australia and Canada. In China, the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games aims to host the first zero-net-emissions games, which will include construction of all buildings and sports venues using green-architecture doctrines.
There are many ways to reduce a building’s environmental impact.
- Special glass allows daylight in to reduce the need for interior lighting, keeps heat and ultraviolet rays out
- Minimizes heat loss in winter
- Two natural-gas-powered fuel cells provide 400 kilowatts of power
- The hot-water exhaust produced by the fuel cells is used to help heat the building and provide hot water
- Heating and cooling systems, located on the roof, are gas-powered rather than electric, as it reduces energy losses associated with electrical power transmission
- Photovoltaic panels on the building’s exterior provide up to an additional 15 kilowatts of power
- Motion sensors control fans and switch off lights in rarely engaged areas such as stairwells
- Exit signs are illumined by low-power light-emitting diodes
- The result is that the building’s energy depletion is 35-40% lesser than that of a traditional building
- A system of weather sensors on the outside of the building screens the temperature, wind speed and level of sunlight, in turn closing the blinds and opening window panels as it deems necessary,
- The building’s shape maximizes the use of natural daylight, reducing the need for artificial lighting and providing remarkable long-distance views even from deep inside the building.
The highest-profile green building presently in the offing is the Freedom Tower, which will be built on the site of the World Trade Centre in New York. The architects, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Studio Daniel Libeskind, have assimilated environmental design features throughout the huge complex. The main tower will rise 1,776 feet, will comprise of solar panels and a wind farm, the turbines of which are expected to deliver around 1 megawatt of power, enough to provide up to 20% of the building’s expected demand. Like other green buildings, it will depend on natural light and ventilation, and energy-efficient lighting.
Extraordinary energy costs, environmental worries and anxiety about the “sick building syndrome” related with the sealed-box structures of the 70’s all facilitated to incite the green-architecture movement. But now economics is driving the trend towards greener design, as new materials and techniques become affordable. Even investors of these massive projects see the incredible sum of money it takes to get a building constructed, and they want a return on that investment.
Saving energy is saving costs in the long run
Going green saves money by reducing long-term energy costs. Green buildings use 30% less energy than comparable conventional buildings. So any additional building costs can be recovered quickly. According to the USGBC, the 2% increase in construction costs required to achieve a LEED gold rating typically pays for itself in lower running costs within 2 years. The traditional approach of trying to minimize construction costs can lead to higher energy bills and wasted materials in the long run.
Energy-saving techniques, as opposed to being exotic, in fact inspires builders to insulate buildings more effectively, in some cases using materials such as recycled paper and fabrics, including old, shredded jeans. It is more effective than traditional insulation and saves money and is friendlier on the environment.
Green buildings can also devise less obvious economic benefits.
- The use of natural daylight in office buildings
- Reduced energy costs
- Natural light decreases health risks and illnesses
- The increase in productivity in employees adds up equally to guarantee returns of a break even in 3 years
Similarly, the use of daylight in shopping complexes appears to increase sales. The Heschong Mahone Group specializes in energy-efficient building technologies. According to them, sales were as much as 40% higher in stores lit with skylights. In fact, students in naturally lit classrooms performed up to 20% better.
Green buildings can also reduce legal liabilities for their owners, since they are less likely to give rise to “sick building” lawsuits. But more studies are needed, says Caren Glotfelty, director of the environmental program at the Heinz Endowments, a non-profit foundation run by Teresa Heinz Kerry that funds sustainable initiatives.
Despite its benefits and its growing popularity, green architecture technology is still the option, not the rule, nevertheless. The main problem is co-ordination, says Mr Bernstein, the vice-president of the building solutions division at Autodesk, a software company, green buildings require much more preparation by architects, engineers, builders and developers than old-fashioned buildings.
Autodesk’s software can create a three-dimensional model of a building and can subsequently work out how much energy it will use, taking into account its shape, heating and cooling systems, orientation to the sun and geographic location. Other such tools abound. The choices are still ours. Would we learn to accept the degradation of environment or make an effort to take an initiative for green architecture?
3D models were primarily made for presentations. But now the three-dimensional computer models are being used with sophisticated analytical tools. It is possible to predict to calculate how much energy and water a building will consume, amount of material that will be needed, and other factors that determine its LEED certification. Computer models have long been used to trim costs and streamline design before construction begins. Now the same technology is being applied by architects.
Here are a few examples of the best green architectures present today.
BIOSCIENCES RESEARCH BUILDING (BRB); GALWAY, IRELAND
PAYETTE AND REDDY ARCHITECTURE + URBANISM
CENTER FOR SUSTAINABLE LANDSCAPES (CSL); PITTSBURGH
THE DESIGN ALLIANCE ARCHITECTS
EXPLORATORIUM AT PIER 15; SAN FRANCISCO
H-E-B AT MUELLER; AUSTIN, TX
LAKE|FLATO ARCHITECTS, H-E-B DESIGN + CONSTRUCTION, SELSER SCHAEFER ARCHITECTS
JACOBS INSTITUTE FOR DESIGN INNOVATION; BERKELEY, CA
LEDDY MAYTUM STACY ARCHITECTS
RENE CAZENAVE APARTMENTS; SAN FRANCISCO
LEDDY MAYTUM STACY ARCHITECTS AND SAIDA + SULLIVAN DESIGN PARTNERS, ASSOCIATED ARCHITECT
The cost of a house can be counted but the construction and running of a house takes a toll on the environment that’s tougher to measure. Increasing number of people who are looking to minimize both environmental impact and financial outlay by outfitting their homes with sustainable technology, and the resulting boom in sustainable building is driving new levels of architectural innovation.