Building Green

It is unthinkable that we can continue

to plead that green buildings are unaffordable.

Instead we must realize, and quickly, that

we can no longer afford not to build green.

-Peter Buchanan

Our home, the Earth, is an ever-changing being, continuously transforming its layers from the inner core to the outer atmosphere.  As humans, we can look back and see the Earth’s transformations over hundreds of thousands of years, or we can observe the daily changes by watching the sky.  The climate: the change of the seasons, the rise and fall of the temperature, the rain and the blue skies; these are all part of the transforming Earth.  However, in this day and age there is new major factor taking part in the Earth’s transfiguration, humans.  We as the human population are reaping the Earth of its resources and have failed to re-direct our downward course toward an unforeseeable, but decisively dismal future.  In his book Ten Shades of Green, Peter Buchanan mentions many of the warning signs pointing toward our looming “global environmental crisis”(Buchanan 10), including global warming, loss of diversity and many others.  Renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson argues that this loss of diversity is caused singlehandedly by humans.  Through our reckless misuse of resources we have altered the Earth’s carefully balance system and we are the ones who must take steps to correct it, we need to achieve a new level of sustainable living, on a global level.  To achieve this global sustainability, we need to redesign the way we live our lives and we must approach the issue from as many sides as possible.  This is no easy task, and as Buchanan says, “clearly, architecture alone cannot bring about sustainability”(Buchanan 12).   However, there are many aspects to the way we live our lives that can be influenced by architecture and through careful planning and design, architectural changes may have a larger global impact then immediately evident.

One of the main considerations when designing environmentally sustainable or green buildings is the amount of energy the building consumes.  Most buildings in the US do not take into account the tremendous amount energy that is wasted on a daily basis.  Lighting “represents the biggest consumption of energy in built-form” closely followed by air-conditioning (Buchanan 7).  When “85% of the United State’s Energy comes form Fossil Fuels” (Ristinen) it is easy to see how unsustainable the built environment can be.  This is why it is imperative that buildings are designed with the environment in mind and in a way designed with the environment as a model.

Vertical Garden by  Patrick Blanc – A good example of designing with the environment.

The environment is a living system.  If buildings are designed like living systems, they may be able to achieve a higher level of sustainability.  Buchanan believes that “Sustainability implies long-term viability” (Buchanan 11).  This long-term viability is similar to the idea of resilience, where a system should be able to hold its own and adapt to changes.  When buildings are designed with long-term viability, they should be able to adapt and sustain themselves.  I think a building can be designed with long-term viability when it is created as a livable space, regardless of the buildings actual use.  When I say livable space, I am referring to space that is connected to the outdoors, a space with nature and natural light, a space that is integrated with the environment.  “A major element of green architecture should be not just to work with and be gentle to nature, but also to make conspicuously visible its workings and cycles” (Buchanan 9).  Not only should the workings of a building be evident, but buildings should be porous structures that allow people to see the environment and even interact with it.

A great example of a space like this is the Lumenhaus project.  This pavilion was designed to be not only permeable to, but to actually automatically interacted with the environment.  Further more, the as hinted at by the name, the Lumenhaus is powered entirely by the sun.


Virginia Tech Lumenhaus


Lumenhaus Permeable Facade – This facade moves with the sun shading the house differently throughout the day.  As the seasons change, different amounts of sunlight enter the house be cause the spherical  cuts in the metal are modeled after the path of the sun.

Sadly there are problems with solutions like the Lumenhaus.  Due to the changes in the Earth’s climate, it is nearly impossible transport design ideas around the globe.  A design that works in the dry Sierra Nevada would fail in the humid South Eastern United States.  This is the reason that design solutions are continually forming and evolving to fit a new specific issue.  One of the things I am most excited about in the future, is having to tackle some of the problems first hand, and knowing that I am taking part in creating a sustainable Earth.
Just a few ideas that can make a building more GREEN.


Virginia Tech Lumenhaus Project:

Buchanan, Peter. Ten Shades of Green: Architecture and the Natural World. Forward by Kenneth Frampton. New York: The Architectural League of New York, 2005.

Ristinen, Robert A. Energy and the Environment. Wiley; 2nd Edition, 2005.

Wilson, Edward O. The Diversity of Life. Norton & Company, 1999


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