What is Green Architecture and is it Sustainable?

Taking sustainability into account in everything we do is very important, as there are many sectors of life that we don’t realize may have an impact on the environment and the society. An example of a sector where sustainability is increasingly taken into account is architecture, giving rise to a new concept called green architecture. The ultimate goal of this concept is to be fully sustainable. Striving to be fully sustainable in architecture implies using sustainable construction practices, materials and designs. In conventional architecture it is common to use non-recyclable and non-biodegradable materials, and to not take into account the environmental footprint.  

Before building something new you should consider repurposing or adapting something old, this concept is followed in green architecture. When dealing with existing infrastructures in green architecture the first thought is whether the existing building can be adapted or repurposed. There are benefits but also some cons about repurposing which all need to be evaluated. One of the cons is that often the cost of repurposing or restoring a building can be higher  than the price of demolishing the building and creating a new one. However, a lot of the building materials used in old buildings are no longer available today and are usually stronger than modern materials. 

Another thing to consider is the history and the story behind the building and what it represents culturally. Considering these factors, it might still be best to repurpose or adapt a building instead of demolishing, even though there would be a higher price. A popular repurposed building is the current Gallery of Modern Art for the Tate Museum (Tate Modern), in London, England. Previously the Bankside Power Station, the Tate Modern was transformed by architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. 

Tate Modern Museum, London, England
Tate Modern Museum, London, England

Green Architecture factors to consider:

Use simple, inexpensive, responsibly obtained materials that are locally available in your area, minimizing long-haul transportation. Another method is to reuse materials and other items, and this is referred to as architectural salvage. These salvaged materials are building parts from demolished or remodeled structures that are no longer being used and instead find their way to a dumpster, landfill or “architectural salvage center” that will buy and sell these items. Items can range from smaller items such as door knobs, tile, and bathroom fixtures to radiators, to “marble fireplace mantel rescued from a law library”. 

Adapt to your area. This implies taking into account the space provided, the angle of the sun, the wind and ventilation, how to get electricity and water without completely digging up the environment, etc. By taking these things into account architects are saving on energy and water.  A great example of this is The Magney House by architect Glenn Murcutt. Murcutt took into consideration everything about the area to make this project. The design of the roof and windows allow plenty of natural sunlight, putting simple blinds on the windows allow for control of light and temperature entering the house. Other materials that assist in managing heating and cooling are the metal sheathing used to construct the roof, and bricks used for insulation. Another interesting feature is the shape of the roof. With this V shape rainwater is able to be collected and reused, whether that is for drinking or heating. 

The Magney House
The Magney House
Photo Credit: Anthony Browell

Alternative energy sources. Another benefit is the possibility of providing your own power with energy sources such as renewable energy. The usual alternatives due to ease would be solar or wind energy, or a combination of both. The PowerNEST, created by IBIS Power is an innovative combination of both solar and wind. The PowerNEST is a great option for work buildings or condominiums, it reduces electricity bills while still providing the needed amount of energy. Renewable energy, especially in combination like this, can be expensive, however the PowerNEST is able to cover its own cost in savings between 5 and 10 years. Built to last it can help the building qualify for the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification and is safe for animals, not attracting bats or birds, along with other benefits. 

Example of the PowerNEST on a building
Example of the PowerNEST on a building
Photo Credit: IBIS Power

Is Green Architecture sustainable?

The short answer is yes. The materials, technologies, designs, etc. of green architecture are sustainable, therefore green architecture itself is sustainable. The LEED Certification is a certified way to know whether or not a building can be considered sustainable. It can be complicated to receive a LEED certification, and private homes have more opportunity, but it is a globally recognized standard for all building and project types. 

Green Design Ideas

High-Performance Windows

High performance windows reduce energy costs, provide insulation, improve air quality,  are long lasting and protect the interior from ultraviolet rays. Depending on the climate there are options to optimize the windows to fit what would work best. 

Example of High-Performance Windows
Example of High-Performance Windows
Photo Credit: Monumental Windows and Doors

Living Roof & Walls

Green roofs have many advantages such as improving air quality, providing insulation, increasing biodiversity, acts as a habitat, reduces stormwater run-off, and can be considered a LEED Credit. Green walls provide similar benefits to green roofs, and in addition they also provide aesthetic benefits. 

Example of a Living Wall
Example of a Living Wall

Green Design Buildings

The Centre for Sustainable Development, Montreal, Canada

An example of a sustainable building is the Centre for Sustainable Development in Montreal, Canada. In the heart of downtown, this is the first commercial building that has seeked LEED Certification and is a great example of sustainable collaboration. The choice of materials, its management of energy, waste and water come together to create one of the most energy-efficient buildings in Quebec. The building features a living wall, geothermal heating and cooling, triple-pane windows, a green roof, and the use of recycled materials throughout. 

The Centre for Sustainable Development, Montreal, Canada
The Centre for Sustainable Development, Montreal, Canada
Photo Credit: Paul Labelle

Bank of America Tower, New York, USA

The Bank of America Tower in New York is one of the most energy efficient skyscrapers globally, as it produces its own clean energy. Other features include LED lighting, water management, and CO2 monitors. It has also reached a platinum LEED rating and has a lot of modern features without impacting sustainability. 

The Bank of America Tower, New York, USA
The Bank of America Tower, New York, USA


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Alicia Advincula
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