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Building Green: Which Materials and Techniques Should Be Used in Green Architecture?

Architects can minimise the impact that buildings have on the environment through careful use of materials. Some materials like steel and glass consume a lot of energy during the manufacturing process and should therefore be avoided. Low-impact building materials should be used wherever feasible. For example, it has been suggested that recycled denim can be used for insulation between walls, rather than fiberglass foam, which is dangerous to breathe.

Keywords: green architecture, green design, sustainable, sustainability, recycling, up-cycling, richard rogers, container architecture, Maison Zalotay, Elemér Zalotay, Nomadic Museum, Urban Space Management, Jean-Marie Tjibaou Centre

Architects can minimise the impact that buildings have on the environment through careful use of materials. Some materials like steel and glass consume a lot of energy during the manufacturing process and should therefore be avoided. Low-impact building materials should be used wherever feasible. For example, it has been suggested that recycled denim can be used for insulation between walls, rather than fiberglass foam, which is dangerous to breathe.

Recycling is a major component of green design. Many consumer products are designed to go out of date very quickly so that people will continue to buy them. This principle of “built-in obsolescence” is antagonistic to green design and sustainability. It is incredibly wasteful because it encourages people to discard products before they have reached the end of their life.

The Maison Zalotay in Switzerland (1984) is a house built almost entirely out of recycled materials. It was designed by Elemér Zalotay, a Hungarian architect living in Switzerland. He was a political radical who defected to the west in the 1970s. The house was designed for his own occupation. It was built on a concrete core, but the fabric of the building is made up of recycled wood, glass and plastic: it looks like a collage. This has a strong symbolic value – it can be read as a metaphor for the decadence of a consumer society that disposes of everything so readily. It suggests that we can live from the things other people discard. Apparently, however, the house is unpopular with the locals, who have thrown stones at it on several occasions.

Recycling has also been used in the production of design objects. The architect Frank Gehry began making cardboard chairs in the late 1960s. Currently, there is an experimental type of building called container architecture, which uses discarded shipping containers as a building material. 7 million shipping containers enter the USA every year. Apparently, there are enough to circle the globe twice. Container architecture is called up-cycling, rather than recycling. Up-cycling is when the functional value of the reuse is greater than the functional value of the original product.

Shipping containers are prefabricated structures and they are standardised, so they form perfect modular building blocks. They already have wooden floors; walls can be removed; and doors, windows, and skylights can be added. Because they have already been manufactured for commercial purposes, very little energy is expended in building a container home, so construction costs are cut in half. The Nomadic Museum in Santa Monica, California (2006) is composed of 152 shipping containers. A youth centre in Mile End Park, East London (2003) was built by the Environment Trust and designed by Urban Space Management. It uses seven containers.

A similar tactic is architectural salvage. When old buildings are demolished materials can be reclaimed and recycled: wood can be sold as flooring; bricks and slate can be recycled quite easily. Specific features like doors, windows and mantel pieces can be reused. This solves two problems at once. It reduces the amount of waste that has to be disposed of, and it reduces the consumption of new goods. Surely, buildings should use the maximum amount of recycled material.

The main environmental cost associated with materials lies in their transportation. Transporting materials also leaves a trail of pollution across the world. For this reason, architects are starting to use local materials as far as possible. Ideally, materials should be taken from the site itself. For example, if a building is being constructed in a wooded area, wood from the trees can be used. The ideal material would be an organic renewable resource that could be sourced locally. Buildings are often decorated with imported woods like teak and mahogany, many of which come from endangered rain forests. It is better to use beech, which replenishes itself faster. Bamboo grows faster that just about any other material, which means it can be harvested for commercial use after only 6 years of growth.

The Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre in New Caledonia, is a green building located in the French territory of Oceania, about 1,000 miles east of Australia. An international competition was held in 1991, and it was won by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, who with Richard Rogers was the co-designer of the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

The design was based on local traditions. It consists of a series of beehive-like pavilions that echo traditional village buildings. Crucially, it is constructed of bamboo, which is the world’s most rapidly regenerated raw material. Bamboo is used to create protective shields. They have adjustable ventilators built into them, which means you can control wind flow and use it to regulate the temperature. The imagery also fits into the local culture. The final building is very sensitive to Melanesian culture, but it’s also a good example of green architecture.

For further discussion, please see:

http://knoji.com/benefits-of-green-buildings/

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Comments (5)

Like the idea of using local materials a lot and using bamboo instead of trees that take many years to grow.

Great idea to re-cycle...especially today, with so much waste. Going Green is the way to go, for sure. But, I must mention, the image surrounded by shrubbery is kind of unsightly, but effective if that's what works for the constructor. I should also mention, Lauren Axelrod's website - TravelSphere - displays an architectural wonder in Armenia. I'm sure you would appreciate her post on this amazing concept and construction. Great post, Michael!

Good to know and very helpful for the environment. Re tweeted and FB liked.

Ranked #1 in Architecture

Thanks for your comments. I've got to agree with Rich; a lot of green buildings are ugly because aesthetics aren't the priority, but I do think the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Centre is beautiful and reveals what can be achieved.

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