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Michael Mehaffy: The Latest Architecture and News

Why Green Architecture Hardly Ever Deserves the Name

7 World Trade Center / SOM. Image © Ruggero Vanni.
7 World Trade Center / SOM. Image © Ruggero Vanni.

The following article, by Michael Mehaffy & Nikos Salingaros, originally appeared in Metropolis Mag as "Why Green Often Isn't"

Something surprising has happened with many so-called “sustainable” buildings. When actually measured in post-occupancy assessments, they’ve proven far less sustainable than their proponents have claimed. In some cases they’ve actually performed worse than much older buildings, with no such claims. A 2009 New York Times article, “Some buildings not living up to green label,” documented the extensive problems with many sustainability icons. Among other reasons for this failing, the Times pointed to the widespread use of expansive curtain-wall glass assemblies and large, “deep-plan” designs that put most usable space far from exterior walls, forcing greater reliance on artificial light and ventilation systems.

Partly in response to the bad press, the City of New York instituted a new law requiring disclosure of actual performance for many buildings. That led to reports of even more poor-performing sustainability icons. Another Times article, “City’s Law Tracking Energy Use Yields Some Surprises,” noted that the gleaming new 7 World Trade Center, LEED Gold-certified, scored just 74 on the Energy Star rating — one point below the minimum 75 for “high-efficiency buildings” under the national rating system. That modest rating doesn’t even factor in the significant embodied energy in the new materials of 7 World Trade Center.

What's going on with these supposedly "sustainable" buildings? Read on, after the break...

How Modern Architecture Got Square

This article, by David Brussat of The Providence Journal's editorial board, first appeared at providencejournal.com.

In a rating of energy efficiency by the Environmental Protection Administration, New York's venerable Chrysler Building scored 84 out of 100 points; the Empire State Building, 80; but the modernist 7 World Trade Center scored 74 (below the cutoff of 75 for "high efficiency"); the Pan Am Building, 39; Lever House, 20; the Seagram Building, 3. The New York Times reported this story last Dec. 24 under the headline "City's Law Tracking Energy Use Yields Some Surprises."

It was no surprise to Nikos Salingaros and Michael Mehaffy, who have investigated why modern architecture thrives despite its inability to live up to any of its longstanding promises -- aesthetic, social or utilitarian.