Humanities › Visual Arts A Primer on Green Architecture and Green Design When "Green" Architecture Is More Than a Color Share Flipboard Email Print ML Harris / Getty Images Visual Arts Architecture Styles An Introduction to Architecture Theory History Great Buildings Famous Architects Famous Houses Skyscrapers Tips For Homeowners Art & Artists By Jackie Craven Art and Architecture Expert Doctor of Arts, University of Albany, SUNY M.S., Literacy Education, University of Albany, SUNY B.A., English, Virginia Commonwealth University Dr. Jackie Craven has over 20 years of experience writing about architecture and the arts. She is the author of two books on home decor and sustainable design. our editorial process Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Jackie Craven Updated June 21, 2019 Green architecture, or green design, is an approach to building that minimizes the harmful effects of construction projects on human health and the environment. The "green" architect or designer attempts to safeguard air, water, and earth by choosing eco-friendly building materials and construction practices. Building a greener home is a choice—at least it is in most communities. "Typically, buildings are designed to meet building code requirements," the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has reminded us, "whereas green building design challenges designers to go beyond the codes to improve overall building performance and minimize life-cycle environmental impact and cost." Until local, state, and federal public officials are persuaded to legislate green processes and standards—just like building and fire prevention practices have been codified—much of what we call "green building practices" is up to the individual property owner. When the property owner is the U.S. General Services Administration, results can be as unexpected as the complex built in 2013 for the U.S. Coast Guard. Common Characteristics of a "Green" Building The highest goal of green architecture is to be fully sustainable. Simply put, people do "green" things in order to achieve sustainability. Some architecture, like Glenn Murcutt's 1984 Magney House, has been an experiment in green design for years. While most green buildings do not have all of the following features, green architecture and design may include: Ventilation systems designed for efficient heating and coolingEnergy-efficient lighting and appliances (e.g., ENERGY STAR® products)Water-saving plumbing fixturesLandscaping with native vegetation and planned to maximize passive solar energyMinimal harm to the natural habitatAlternative renewable energy power sources such as solar power or wind powerNon-synthetic, non-toxic materials used inside and outLocally-obtained woods and stone, eliminating long-haul transportationResponsibly-harvested woodsAdaptive reuse of older buildingsUse of recycled architectural salvageEfficient use of spaceOptimal location on the land, maximizing sunlight, winds, and natural shelteringRainwater harvesting and greywater reuse You don't need a green roof to be a green building, although Italian architect Renzo Piano not only created a green roof but also specified recycled blue jeans as insulation in his design of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. You don't need a vertical garden or green wall to have a green building, yet French architect Jean Nouvel has successfully experimented with the concept in his design for One Central Park residential building in Sydney, Australia. Construction processes are a huge aspect of green building. Great Britain transformed a brownfield into the site of the London 2012 summer Olympic Games with a plan for how contractors would build the Olympic village—dredging waterways, strict sourcing of building materials, recycling concrete, and using rail and water to deliver materials were just some of their 12 green ideas. The processes were implemented by the host country and overseen by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the ultimate authority for requiring Olympic-sized sustainable development. LEED, the Green Verification LEED is an acronym meaning Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Since 1993, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has been promoting green design. In 2000, they created a rating system that builders, developers, and architects can adhere to and then apply for certification. "Projects pursuing LEED certification earn points across several categories, including energy use and air quality," explains USGBC. "Based on the number of points achieved, a project then earns one of four LEED rating levels: Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum." The certification comes with a fee, but it can be adapted and applied to any building, "from homes to corporate headquarters." LEED certification is a choice and not a requirement by the government, although it may be a requirement in any private contract. Students who enter their projects in the Solar Decathlon are judged by a rating system as well. Performance is part of being green. Whole Building Design The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) argues that sustainability has to be part of the whole design process, from the very start of the project. They devote an entire website to the WBDG—Whole Building Design Guide. Design objectives are interrelated, where designing for sustainability is just one aspect. "A truly successful project is one where project goals are identified early on," they write, "and where the interdependencies of all building systems are coordinated concurrently from the planning and programming phase." Green architectural design should not be an add-on. It should be the way of doing the business of creating a built environment. NIBS suggests that the interrelationships of these design objectives must be understood, evaluated, and appropriately applied — accessibility; aesthetics; cost-effectiveness; functional or operational ("the functional and physical requirements of a project"); historic preservation; productivity (comfort and health of the occupants); security and safety; and sustainability. The Challenge Climate change will not destroy the Earth. The planet will go on for millions of years, long after human life has expired. Climate change, however, can destroy the species of life on Earth that cannot adapt fast enough to new conditions. The building trades have collectively recognized its role in contributing to the greenhouse gases put into the atmosphere. For example, the manufacturing of cement, the basic ingredient in concrete, is reportedly one of the largest global contributors to carbon dioxide emissions. From poor designs to construction materials, the industry is challenged to change its ways. Architect Edward Mazria has taken the lead to transform the building industry from a major polluter to an agent of change. He has suspended his own architectural practice to concentrate on the nonprofit organization he established in 2002. The goal set for Architecture 2030 is simply this: "All new buildings, developments, and major renovations shall be carbon-neutral by 2030." One architect who has taken the challenge is Richard Hawkes and Hawkes Architecture in Kent, United Kingdom. Hawkes' experimental home, Crossway Zero Carbon Home, is one of the first zero carbon houses built in the UK. The house uses a timbrel vault design and generates its own electricity through solar energy. Looking to a Sustainable Future Green design has many related names and concepts associated with it, besides sustainable development. Some people emphasize the ecology and have adopted names like eco-design, eco-friendly architecture, and even arcology. Eco-tourism is a 21st-century trend, even if eco house designs might appear to be a bit non-traditional. Others take their cue from the environmental movement, arguably begun by Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent Spring—earth-friendly architecture, environmental architecture, natural architecture, and even organic architecture have aspects of green architecture. Biomimicry is a term used by architects who use nature as a guide to green design. For example, the Expo 2000 Venezuelan Pavilion has petal-like awnings that can be adjusted to control the internal environment—just as a flower may do. Mimetic architecture has long been an imitator of its surroundings. A building can look beautiful and even be constructed from very expensive materials, but not be "green." Likewise, a building can be very "green" but visually unappealing. How do we get good architecture? How do we move toward what Roman architect Vitruvius suggested to be the three rules of architecture—to be well-built, useful by serving a purpose, and beautiful to look at? Sources Gissen, David (ed.) National Building Museum. "Big and Green: Toward Sustainable Architecture in the 21st Century." New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2002.How LEED Works. U.S. Green Building Council.Huseynov, Emir Fikret oglu. "Planning of Sustainable Cities in View of Green Architecture." Procedia Engineering 21 (2011): 534–42. Print.Masood, Osama Ahmed Ibrahim, Mohamed Ibrahim Abd Al-Hady, and Ahmed Khamies Mohamed Ali. "Applying the Principles of Green Architecture for Saving Energy in Buildings." Energy Procedia 115 (2017): 369–82. Print.Ragheb, Amany, Hisham El-Shimy, and Ghada Ragheb. "Green Architecture: A Concept of Sustainability." Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 216 (2016): 778–87. Print.Shaviv, Edna. "Passive and Low Energy Architecture (Plea) Vs Green Architecture (Leed)." 25th Conference on Passive and Low Energy Architecture. 2008. "Design Objectives." Whole Building Design Guide.Wines, James and Philip Jodidio. "Green Architecture." Taschen, 2008.