Many Shades of Green

GUEST POST BY DELLA HANSMANN

After I wrote this title I decided that perhaps the metaphor is slightly off.  It seems to be more a question of albedo, the distinction between the many shiny-nesses of green.   As Denise mentioned on Tuesday, this weekend our family met in Madison and road tripped down to Chicago for a little dose of culture and urban life.  Part of the “culture” was a trip to what my little sister used to call the Museum of Science is Interesting.  We took in the demonstration Smart-Home on display there.  It is a pre-fab urban house designed by Michelle Kaufmann which is a very shiny green indeed.  It was interesting to me because of how different it is from the kind of green architecture I’m currently practicing.

via Museum of Science and Industry website

via the Museum of Science and Industry website

I was thinking about the huge range of green designs a few weeks ago while reading Peter Buchanan’s,  The Ten Shades of Architecture. In his introduction, he points out that green architecture has generally gotten a bad rap in the US.  It has been rejected by architects and,

“stigmatized  as untrendy, regressive and even reactionary.  (Some academics have gone so far to refer to eco-fascism).  A stereotyped notion of green buildings conjures up images of muesli-eating inhabitants with beards and sandals, and rudimentary forms of back to nature lifestyles – a caricature of the counterculture that pioneered much green experiment – as well as of crude and ugly buildings with which no urbane sophisticate or academic would wish to be associated. “

Green architect, Ted Owens, extends that stigma from architects to the American public in his book Building with Awareness.  Green design has historically been hurt by,

“the perception that energy efficiency was synonymous with ugliness.  Odd roof and ceiling angles, too many windows in one place and not enough in another, too many macramé-suspended hanging plants … did not engender praise from the general public.”

Certainly this new generation of Smart Homes are aiming to break those stereotypes.  There is nothing in mkSolaire which smacks of either sandals or macramé.  Its clean and efficient and was clearly designed with 3D modeling computer software.  It was also clearly designed to work within existing building codes and be practical and practicable for an urban lot.  This may indeed be the shape of things to come.

via the Museum of Science and Industry website

via the Museum of Science and Industry website

via the Museum of Science and Industry website

via the Museum of Science and Industry website

Certainly high-tech green is easier for most architects to assimilate and, to the extent that my peers are accepting the idea of sustainable architecture, the high tech version is the most fun.  Green ratings systems like LEED are focused on issues that can be easily quantified in checklists and spreadsheets.  Even though I actually liked the design of the mkSolaire a lot I was uneasy as we walked through it on the guided tour.  The guide pointed out the floors as Ipe, a South American hardwood and I wondered about the energy require to transport it here.  He highlighted the “fireplace”, a metal housing which protects a smokeless ethanol fueled flame, and I pulled up all my mental reservations about that particular “alternative” fuel which requires more energy to process then it produces.  In the kitchen he drew our eyes to the counter top, plug in compost machine and I just rolled my eyes.

I would rather have heard him explain more useful concepts like the orientation of the shading devices on the windows, the brilliant use of stack ventilation for cooling and the greenery on the roofs which will help to offset the heat island effect created by all urban development.  Ah well, it was clearly not a tour designed for persnickety left-wing architects.  I was very glad to see the other museum-goers on the tour nodding with interest.  This way lies progress!

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Homes Designed For Clean, Simple Living

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