In many cases, I haven't been able to decide whether a building full of trees fits into the "sustainable" category. In fact, I've often had to make the argument that such a building is far from it.
It seems that the vast majority of contemporary marketing for sustainable architecture operates under the guise of greenwashing. What's more, the line between what truly creates healthier and more sustainable living spaces and what doesn't is often a blurred one.
To see just how blurred this line is, we asked our readers to weigh in on just what makes a house "green". Is it being able to trace the source of your building materials and knowing the people who harvest, process, and sell them? Is it the ability to fulfill the day-to-day needs of the inhabitants using renewable resources?
We got an impressive number of responses and after reading and compiling all of the comments by construction professionals, students, and architecture aficionados, we noticed the following three opinions were most prevalent in regards to what makes houses "green" : they should operate under an efficient cycle, they should teach us to be more conscious about our impact, and they should be conducive to living. Take a look at the responses below.
Opinion 1: They Should Have an Efficient Cycle
"Is there anything more natural, more green, than nature itself? Consider how a tree, in the spring, blossoms and shares its newfound beauty with everything around it. Then, in the fall, it sheds its leaves, feeding a plethora of microorganisms that later will return the nutrients to the ground and keep the circle of life turning. This, in essence, is an efficient cycle. What first appears to be waste is really essential materials to nourish future growth. Apply this to architecture, and we have, not only the reutilization of buildings and spaces, but of their materials." -An architecture student from Uruguay
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In large cities this means focusing on building rehabilitation and implementing eco-design for new constructions, especially when deciding what materials will be used and the energy needed to produce and apply them. "The greenest energy is unused energy." -An architecture aficionado from Spain.
Opinion 2: They Should Teach Us to Be More Conscious
"Years ago, when you went to a music door to get a CD, you had to first find the genre section for the band or music you were looking for, which often meant browsing through several sections if you weren't sure of the artist's category. With time, while major distinctions between music genres persisted, certain elements were mixed and borrowed, blurring the lines between music styles and breathing new life into many of them. This same concept could be applied to architecture; not necessarily drawing lines between this architectural style or that one, sustainable or not sustainable, but rather taking the beneficial and "green" elements from each and applying them to the rest. Of course, this cannot effectively be done without bearing in mind the history, customs, climate conditions, and all around environment that define architectural styles and traditions. Current trends demand that architecture, like most other professions, operate more ecologically in any way they can, whether that means planting a tree, achieving self-sufficiency, or leaving behind no carbon footprint." -An architect from Argentina
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"The reality is that there is only so much that houses can do to mitigate their emissions and energy, water, and electricity consumption. Only a portion of their materials are reusable and there is no guarantee that their waste will be repurposed after it passes out of use. This begs the question--what makes a house "green?" What makes a house sustainable? At the moment, it looks as though it's simply the lifestyle of its inhabitants and their conscious efforts to curb their impact. It's the creation of new paradigms with regards to life and responsibility." - An architect from Mexico.
"I think there should be a controlled and harmonious synapsis between building green and living green. We make all of these efforts to optimize resources and minimize their environmental impact, and to think of them as series of life cycles necessary to maintain life on our planet. In this way, it's important to highlight that, in order to make the connection between living and building green, it's essential to analyze the structural element, a element that is constantly changing in response to the environment around it and these changes are what shapes its impact on this environment. It's up to public policy to channel these changes in a way that favors the environment of our only planet." -A architectural professional from Chile.
Opinion 3: They Should Be Conducive to Living
"The problem with "green" planning, is that it has the tendency to oversimplify the significance of plants, without taking into consideration the entire biosphere. What's the point of going green when it doesn't support life beyond a yard or patio? If going green is truly about supporting life, then a house that claims to be green should be one in which plants not only serve to embellish or make spaces more harmonious or sustainable (which they do) but to also to be a part of that house as a living thing that has needs and that also adds to the wellbeing and happiness of the other inhabitants." -A professional from Venezuela
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"We distinguish "green architecture" with prefixes like "bio," a root word for "life," and "eco," a root word for "habitat" or "home." By applying these terms to products and adding pop of green color, we are lulled into a false security that they are, at best, "good" for the environment and, at worst, not as damaging as other alternatives. In this, lies the error in our thinking. If we could combine these prefixes, we'd get a word with almost the same meaning as "ecosystem," where various biotic and abiotic components come together and exist in balance with one another. Architecture should seek to embody this. It's a an ambiguous idea, but architecture should belong to an environment without affecting it, not by filling itself with plants, but rather behaving as one." -A reader from Colombia.
This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: Green. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.