Friday, November 05, 2010 5:58 PM
A new high-rise planned for Dornbin, Austria, is notable for its principle construction material: wood. The 30-story tower will be the tallest wood building in the world, reports Treehugger, and its maker, CREE (Creative Renewable Energy and Efficiency), is mounting a charge to restore wood as a renewable material for large urban projects.
The tower’s skeleton, to be certain, comprises not entirely wood but rather a prefabricated, hybrid post-and-beam construction in which each level is made of a timber-concrete composite slab and columns are made from “glulam” laminated wood.
As a structural material for tall buildings, wood was long ago scrapped as old-school in favor of concrete and steel. But some qualities make it shine brightly in sustainable architecture and sustainable building. Treehugger quotes from CREE’s celebration of wood:
To use wood as the main component for high-rise buildings may at first sight appear to be unusual. However, the advantages are obvious, for no other building material is produced with a similar regard for energy saving. Wood is a naturally renewable raw material, has high strength and low weight, and guarantees optimum heat insulation, durability, noise and vibration damping characteristics. As one of the earth’s oldest building materials, wood meets the latest safety requirements even today, and is also 100 percent recyclable. In urban architecture, wood is therefore an outstanding alternative for the future.
Image courtesy of CREE.
Friday, September 18, 2009 4:29 PM
If humans were able to freeze carbon emissions tomorrow—a long shot, to be sure—the climate would continue changing for years to come. That’s why some experts are trying to determine how we might adapt to climate change, even as we work to mitigate it. The new issue of Environmental Building News outlines a few suggestions for building green, and making sure the buildings stay that way. The suggestions include designing natural ventilation for cooling without extra energy, using materials that can survive flooding, and avoiding combustible siding to protect against wildfires. Environmental expert Jonathan Overpeck told the magazine, “adaptation and mitigation are not an either-or proposition.” People have to do both.
Source: Environmental Building News
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Wednesday, June 03, 2009 3:18 PM
Wind turbines don’t just collect energy. They collect attention. Environmental Building News writes in its May issue about the ways that many big green structures nowadays are incorporating “building integrated” wind power into their designs—and not always to generate much power but rather to make a loud and public statement about their greenness. EBN’s headline calls it “The Folly of Building Integrated Wind,” and for this rather staid publication that’s a pretty damning indictment.
Editor Alex Wilson, who reported the piece, doesn’t arrive at his conclusion lightly, however. In typical EBN style he come at the issue from an objective, information-driven approach that parses the pros and cons of wind turbines on buildings before concluding that “it’s usually a bad idea.”
“A green building is not green because it has [solar panels] on the roof—or a ground-source heat pump or a vegetated roof or integrated wind,” writes Wilson in his editor’s column in the same issue. “It’s green because it has an energy-conserving envelope, because it relies on natural daylighting, because it effectively controls unwanted heat gain, because it reduces dependence on automobiles, because it’s compact and resource-efficient, because it’s healthy, and because it’s stingy on water use. The heavy lifting in green design has to come from these measures, not from the window dressing. … Construction budgets are tight these days. Let’s not squander these limited budgets on high-profile visual statements.”
Image of Bahrain World Trade Center by Ahmed Rabea, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, May 21, 2009 5:31 PM
I’ve been coveting a lot of my neighbors’ houses while browsing Builders of the Pacific Coast (Shelter Publications) by Lloyd Kahn, a photo-splashed book full of amazing, rustic, wood-built dwellings and shelters on islands and in other remote seaside locations in the Pacific Northwest.
The area’s huge trees and ubiquitous driftwood lend themselves to curvaceous, organic design, and these builders take full advantage of these qualities in structures that range from a Hobbit-like gazebo to a spherical treehouse to grand but still-earthy luxury homes and spas. Many of the homes are reachable only by boat and perched in impossibly beautiful settings.
There’s a strong countercultural thread to these builders, many of whom were inspired by Kahn’s 1973 book Shelter, a bible of sorts for that decade’s back-to-the-land movement. And Kahn’s laid-back writing style is full of metaphysical allusions and meandering asides about his travels, giving it a whiff of patchouli and B.C. bud. But looking at these homes, it’s hard to doubt that there’s “a vortex of creative carpentry energy in this part of the world,” as the book states. Moss roofs, bentwood railings, hand-carved details, natural motifs, and Native influences complement the area’s mossy, foggy splendor and speak to its natural and human history.
See Kahn’s recent story about his book in our sister publication, Mother Earth News, complete with a slideshow.
Sources: Shelter Publications, Mother Earth News
Image by Lloyd Kahn, courtesy of Lloyd Kahn.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009 12:37 PM
Green buildings are needed to move the country toward sustainability, but if the buildings aren’t beautiful, they won’t be green for long. Architecture professor James Vines asked Kriston Capps in the American Prospect, “If it isn't art, it's not sustainable, because who's going to keep ugly buildings around?”
Green building design isn’t advancing as quickly as green technology, according to Capps, in part because the top-tier architects like Frank Gehry aren’t trying. Some just don’t like working in local or sustainable materials. Instead, green buildings are often built by younger architects with fewer resources. So far, the great design hasn’t been forthcoming.
Image by Payton Chung, licensed under Creative Commons.
Source: The American Prospect
Wednesday, September 10, 2008 1:11 PM
What exactly makes a building green? Writing for Colorado’s High Country News, Monique Cole takes on the concept of building "green" McMansions after reading about a businessman who built a 6,500-square-foot home near Boulder. The mansion, which uses extensive solar power and ecological building materials, was named "the greenest home in North America" by the Boulder County Business Report. But do these choices actually make the building “the greenest”? No: Even though the materials and power sources are eco-friendly, it still takes gas for the movers, builders, landscapers, and utility workers to get to the property, some 10 miles outside Boulder (not to mention the extra fuel it takes for its owners to get to and from work and commerce). The kicker, Cole points out, is that this house’s square footage is three times that of the median American household. "Everyone’s looking for the silver bullets that will allow us to carry on our consumptive lifestyles just as we always have. But to be truly green, some sacrifices have to be made, such as giving up the home theater or that fourth bay in the garage."
Image courtesy of
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Friday, May 23, 2008 10:47 AM
Michael Reynolds is the mastermind behind Earthships, which makes him sound like some sort of space renegade. Reynolds is a rebel, profiled in the Walrus, but his transgressions are mundane: breaking state ordinances and county building codes to create sustainable homes dubbed Earthships. His work leaves little time for savvy branding to fight the prevailing belief that off-the-grid living means inhabiting a yurt.
In the late 1980s, when his architect peers were busy “distinguishing architecture from mere building, liberating it from the plebian world of functionality,” Reynolds was building the first commissioned, decidedly functional Earthship in New Mexico. Reynolds’ designs aren’t sleek—the U-shaped buildings resemble a hybrid “between The Hobbit’s Bag End burrow and the Tatooine farmstead of Luke Skywalker’s youth”—but they are efficient.
“Reynolds’ houses verge on 100 percent self-sufficiency. They harvest their own water, treat their own sewage, generate their own electricity, self-heat, and self-cool,” the Walrus reports. The walls are made of mortar-encased recycled cans and tires, and they have been successfully sustainable in the deserts of New Mexico, the jungles of Bolivia, and the mountains of British Columbia. For Reynolds’ designs to enjoy greater popularity, he’ll need more accommodating building codes. Of course, the Walrus seems to hint, a less snigger-inducing name for his structures wouldn’t hurt either.
Image by Matthew Yglesias, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, April 04, 2008 9:39 AM
Visiting my mom’s office building as a child, I often found small birds with freshly broken necks in the hedges outside, lying compacted and still, like sleeping babies. One hundred million birds are killed each year in the United States by collisions with buildings, the New York City Audubon Society writes in its free, 55-page, downloadable booklet, Bird-Safe Building Guidelines. This spectacle of my childhood could perhaps have been avoided, reports BuildingGreen.com, by building modifications as simple as “placing patterns on the glass or adding shading screens in front of the windows” or simply by turning the lights off at night, when large numbers of birds migrate.
Friday, January 25, 2008 4:29 PM
If This Old House strikes you as a bit too old, there is a new breed of building shows that teach you how to make your house pretty—and environmentally sustainable at the same time. Check out OnNetwork’s Mainstream Green program, which has host Alex Pettitt helping you understand things like integrated pest management and on-site recycling. The latest episode on recycling shows how a handy “tub grinder” can be used on building sites to turn previously wasted wood, drywall, and brick into natural insulation. The show also takes you inside a paper recycling plant where you get to see the huge bales of paper waiting to be “repurposed.” If you still want more, check out HGTV Pro’s collection of green building “best practices.” These videos give a bounty of green building tips for your next home improvement project.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008 3:30 PM
January means list time. Everyone feels entitled to publish an annual top ten list around the New Year, looking back on 2007’s notable scientific discoveries, blunders, and cat videos. But Sustainable Industries is looking ahead. The monthly green business magazine, nominated for a 2007 Utne Independent Press Award for its environmental coverage, has put out its annual Trend Watch, with in-depth articles on eight green business trends we can expect to see in 2008.
One thing to anticipate in 2008 is growth in the green building products industry. Despite worries over the U.S. housing slump, the green building market has been growing rapidly, with the market for green building materials increasing a whopping 23 percent annually from 2004 to 2006. Sustainable Industries attributes the growth to consumer demand, stricter building codes, and the reduced operating costs that come with green buildings.
But consumers aren’t satisfied with just living in green buildings—they also want to be able to keep tabs on their energy consumption within the home. Which is why Sustainable Industries predicts we will see an increase in technology that gives consumers easy access to energy usage information: “A growing number of savvy companies are providing value-added services that help individual users make sense of the environmental data available, using the now-ubiquitous cell phones, PDAs, laptops and other personal communication tools available.” One such tool, featured in Good magazine, shows how much energy is sucked up by common household appliances even when they are turned off. And Sustainable Industries reports that Nissan plans to add displays to vehicles that tell the driver how their acceleration and braking behaviors affect fuel efficiency.
Other predictions for 2008? Expect to see advances in battery operated cars, increased reliance on renewable energy sources, and a consolidation of green media sources.
Monday, January 07, 2008 3:37 PM
There aren’t many problems that can’t be solved by eager, young college students. Last October’s Solar Decathlon, for example, pit twenty teams of young over-achievers against each other in an competition to build the perfect solar home. The homes had to snag all of their power from the sun, and provide enough extra power to run a small electric car. The event was chronicled by eight-year-old, green journalist Carrick McCullough, who covered the event with some help from his father for the blog, Autoblog Green. When you add McCullough’s fresh-faced journalism to the innovative environmental solutions from the event, the decathlon achieved the green triumvirate: it’s eco-friendly, it’s educational, and it’s also cute.
You can watch McCullough's report below:
Friday, October 19, 2007 12:00 AM
In Utne Reader’s latest issue, I tried to convince homeowners, builders, and buyers to get over their fear of the “green premium”—the price-tag hike for taking the eco-friendly path—and plunge into the green housing market. I argued that we could take a tip from corporate America, which has already realized that green buildings aren’t just better for the planet, they’re better for the people in them (happier, healthier employees) and they’re better for the bottom line (energy efficiency = big cost savings).
Then I read Environmental Building News
’ latest issue, which points out that our work is far from done when it comes to minimizing the environmental toll of our jobs. The September edition of this newsletter from the hyper-informed folks at BuildingGreen Inc. tallies the eco-footprint of American commuters. “Commuting by office workers accounts for 30 percent more energy than the [average office] building itself uses,” write Alex Wilson and Rachel Navaro. When you look at newer energy-efficient developments, that gap widens to 140 percent. The authors make a compelling case for green building professionals (and their clients) to place a greater emphasis on location and access to public transportation when it comes judging a project’s environmental credentials. Because an office can only be so green if you have to burn an hour’s worth of gas inching through exurbia to get there. —Hannah Lobel
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