''Green'' Architecture

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By all accounts, 2007 was a banner year for Al Gore: a best-selling book, an award-winning documentary, and to top it all, the Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work on climate change. But the real beneficiary of the ''green'' movement is the environment, and every industry — from oil and gas to the automotive industry and from technology to entertainment — is waking up to the reality that the earth isn't simply an empty vessel to be occupied and exploited, but to be protected and preserved. And despite the heavy hemming and hawing from skeptical capitalists, there is no reason why going green should mean reduced profits or a lower standard of modern living. In fact, as the message spreads, more and more people are waking up to the idea that environmentalism and business are, in fact, compatible. All of this has likewise manifested itself in the new design phenomenon known as ''green architecture.''

What is it? Put simply, green architecture refers to the practice of designing buildings which are energy efficient and which exert little to no impact on the environmental setting in which they are constructed. The concept also applies to revitalizing older structures which do not operate on an energy-efficient status. Green architecture differs from what is commonly known as "natural building." which entails smaller structures built exclusively from locally available natural materials (i.e., adobe, cob).

Though some prominent architects (Frank Lloyd Wright among them) have historically demonstrated an awareness and respect for the environment which far preceded the modern movement, building according to "green" standards became something of an impossibility with the 20th century's population boom, which demanded speedy, large scale construction of homes at increasingly lower prices. This, of course, was not good for the environment and led to widespread deforestation, pollution, and downright clumsy designs now regarded as obsolete.

Green architecture also has a decidedly aesthetic component. A common practice is to design the structure so that it retains features of the surrounding area and blends into the site in which it is built. Such a sustainable and environmentally-friendly design is dependent on several factors, including the following:
  • Identifying environmentally-safe building materials from local sources
  • Reducing loads
  • Optimizing heating, cooling, and energy systems
  • Generating on-site renewable energy
And while the average American consumer is concerned with the record oil and gas prices, this spike in cost may actually prove to be a good thing for the environment if it pushes consumers to decrease their oil and gas consumption. The political implications of developing alternate energy resources are obvious, but few industries have taken this to heart as well as architecture. Many homes and buildings are now being constructed to take optimum advantage of solar and wind power and to capitalize on natural heating and cooling systems, which continue to witness innovative growth each year.

In the U.S. and Canada, several organizations have formed around this burgeoning phenomenon, responsible for establishing standards for energy efficiency, including Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Green Globes, and the National Association of Home Builders.

Here are some additional facts from GreenBuilding.com to consider about green vs. traditional architecture:
  • Older toilets use 3.7-7 gallons per flush.
  • Dishwashers use 8-14 gallons per cycle.
  • Top-loading washers use 45 gallons/load.
  • A dripping faucet wastes 15-21 gallons per day.
  • U.S. water users withdraw enough water to fill a line of Olympic-size swimming pools reaching around the world EVERY DAY (300 billion gallons).
  • Although our planet is 71% water, humans depend on a mere .65 percent of the water for survival — much of which is polluted.
  • About a quarter of the nation's largest industrial plants and water treatment facilities are in serious violation of pollution standards at any one time.
  • An estimated 7 million Americans are made sick annually by contaminated tap water; in some rare cases, this results in death.

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