Paul Hawken, certainly among
the most elegant of writers, provides the preface for a book of
essays on environmental design. In it he states, Sustainable
architecture is foremost about reimagining the relationship between
human beings and living systems. The most powerful expression of
this relationship is our built environment. And then he asks,
How do we build now that there are six billion of us? How
do we design structures that can be reincorporated into the earth
harmlessly and endlessly? [The emphasis is mine.] How do we metabolize
energy and water so that the sky and land improve rather than erode?
In other words, given how many we are and how much we have come
to expect, how do we live?
Fifty-five authors responded to Hawkens query in a series
of white papers collected and published by the Earth Pledge Foundation,
New York, NY. White papers, we are told, began in 18th-century England
to provide a forum for important social and political issues. Clearly,
from the caliber of contributors and the extensive range of their
concerns, these essays are worthy of their moniker. Submissions
range from the expected to the profound. Old, but mostly worthy,
green building strategies are paired with conceptual ideas that
are startlingly new. The woe is us plaintive cry uttered
by some is adequately countered by creative, paradigm-shifting ideas
for ways out of the messes weve gotten ourselves into.
One of the advantages of a collection of essays is the ability to
quickly move on from one style or subject to another. Below are
excerpts from essays I found particularly provocative. Feel free
to exercise your own judgment as well.
Sustainable architecture basically comes down to three
purposesfirst, to advance the purely selfish motive of survival
by a cooperation with nature; second, to build shelter in concert
with ecological principles as part of this objective; and third,
to address the deeper philosophical conflicts surrounding the issue
of whether we really deserve the luxury of this existence, given
our appalling track record of environmental abuse.
James Wines, president and founder of SITE
In June 1996, the Natural Resources Defense Council
(NRDC) moved into a new 20,000-square-foot space in Washington,
DC, that is one of the most environmentally friendly offices in
the United States. This office represents the culmination of a 10-year
greening process of all four of the organizations offices
nationwide. This newest addition also shows how much has changed
since our greening effort began in 1987 when we began working with
Croxton Collaborative on our New York offices. Over 90 percent of
the environmental materials used in the Washington office were not
available when we starting designing our New York headquarters.
Robert Watson and Adam Cox, senior analysts, NRDC
Opportunities to bring back our forests lurk in every
median strip, right-of-way, street end, hill, slope, backyard, rooftop
and parking lot. What if every street had a tree-lined creek that
would divert storm water and clean out roadway pollutants and car
exhaust? What if every schoolyard had a bosque of trees to filter
pollution and provide a shady place for playing tag? What if every
block had a park with a pond to retain the neighborhoods storm
water and double as a swimming hole? What if all our waterfront
parks included wooded streams inviting to salmon? What if all these
interventions were coordinated with protecting and enhancing existing
natural areas for greater habitat connectivity and recreational
opportunities? In the end, Seattle would become a diverse forest
habitat that would give back to us for eons.
Nathaniel Cormier, associate, Jones & Jones Architects
and Landscape Architects
House reclamation is a great business for so many reasons
it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Its good
for the environment: trees saved, landfills left unfilled, tons
of synthetic building materials not produced. It is redeeming socially:
short of single- and double-wide trailers, which are poor long-term
investments, reclaimed houses are the only thing that can compete
with modular housing in terms of affordability. And unlike modular
homes, which cast a pall of blandness on the land, old homes have
soul and character and are a link to a communitys past. House
reclamation is so wonderful financially I hesitate to talk of it
lest I create competition.
G.T. Overholt, vice president, Sustainable Living, Inc.
The postwar suburb is a model of social and economic
segregation. Zoning laws are the primary culpritthey mandate
large-lot subdivisions and separate low-income pod developments
while prohibiting accessory housing (such as apartments above stores
or garages) and mixing land uses and lot sizes in one area. By physically
segregating uses, these ordinances increase land and development
costs while virtually mandating the use of an automobile for every
errand. Moreover, such enforced homogeneity of building types cannot
respond to changes in ones own family, such as children growing
up and parents growing old.
John A. Clark and David Tice, The John A. Clark Co.; Neal
I. Payton, Torti Gallas & Partners CHK
Straw-bale construction has been around for centuries.
In Europe, one can find houses built out of straw that are over
200 years old. In the United States, the idea of building straw
houses started in the late 1800s in the Nebraska Sandhills area,
a region with no trees to use for lumber. Besides being a waste
productits whats left after grain is harvestedstraw
is a renewable resource, grown annually. Its also extremely
energy efficient. Testing indicates that a two-foot-thick bale has
an insulation rating (R-value) that beats a standard wood frame
wall insulated with R-19 batts by a factor of nearly three.
Laurie Stone, staff writer/project developer, Solar Energy
Incorporating green technologies into affordable housing
requires a paradigm shift in the way we measure affordability; it
must come to mean more than a subsidized purchase price. It must
also mean that low-income residents benefit from reduced operating
costs and improved health, and that the homes in which they live
properly account for long-term environmental consequences. Clearly,
developing green affordable housing is a challenge. But with careful
attention to the education of all participantsin terms of
both cost and realistic benefitsand with innovative financing,
one can bring energy savings and environmentally sensitive techniques
to distressed communities.
Patty Noonan, director of sustainable development initiatives,
New York City Housing Partnership and Jon Vogel, project manager,
Jonathon Rose & Companies
In order to design sustainable buildings in todays
marketplace, we must make a quantum leap in our ability to evaluate
products. We must be able to evaluate materials and building processes
in their capacity to work together as successfully as past indigenous
builders did with nature. This is not a simple process, nor is it
intuitive. The human system has become so complex that there are
hundreds and even thousands of processes embedded in every product.
This surfeit of upstream ingredients and processes leaves little
capacity for nature to make up for our lack of knowledge of the
ecological conditions within which these products are placed. Thus,
a new understanding of the design and specification process is required.
Pliny Fisk III, co-director, Center for Maximum Potential
Generally architects deal with only the wealthier 10
percent of the population. Consequently, we are isolated from the
larger community. If an architect wants to be involved in challenging
the status quo, then he or she must participate in the civic lives
of their community. The world will not beat a path to our doors.
But we do have the ability to affect what is happening in our own
backyards. When architects are attentive to the social and physical
needs of their own communities, the larger world engages. So it
starts with being attentive to whats around you and then making
a commitment. After all, the role of any artist is to help people
see things both as they truly are and how they can be.
Samuel Mockbee, J. Streeter Wiatt Distinguished Professor
of Architecture, Auburn University
If we can begin to shift our conceptions of the purpose
and process of development to one that heals human and natural communities,
uses nature as a mentor and addresses occupants physiological
and psychological needs, then we will be on our way to integrating
ecology and real estate. We will also have begun to answer Henry
David Thoreaus plaintive question, What is the use of
a house if you havent got a tolerable planet to put it on?
William D. Browning, senior research associate, Green Development
Services, Rocky Mountain Institute