The Initiative for Green Habitats represents a long term commitment towards providing solutions for the creation of Sustainable Built Environments. This blog attempts to provide an insight to our views, commentaries on our work, ideas that we are working on, and provoke thought where there are more questions than answers.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Is a green building meant to look any different?

I am tempted to say yes.... mainly due to what today's buildings have begun to look like.
I have a suspicion that buildings would end up taking a different form and have a different appearance if they are built sustainably. The variations would be starker between different regions. Today, we build in pretty much the same fashion anywhere in our country. In fact, we have already started claiming that our buildings speak a global language and rightly so. Most building technologies are floating across geographies and creating what is now the new global expression. Creative ideas are encouraged more than refreshing regional ideas.
Why would these green buildings look different? Let us look at how we built 100 to 200 years ago. Those buildings could be called 'deep green' buildings. They took absolutely no power to make, they were almost entirely built out of materials and skills sourced from within a 100 km radius, they were made thermally comfortable, they did not consume much energy to run (primarily for a few oil lamps and biomass stoves), they had the lowest LPDs, they were dependent on sustainable water sources and managed what little waste they generated in what some would call green systems (read dry toilets, leach pits, etc).
With no global dictat or influencers, these built environments reflected strong regional attributes and it would take no time for a person who would wake up in such environments to figure out where he was. We can’t say the same about today's built spaces.
We have two choices. One, we could adopt core green principles for our built environments and I would suspect that we would end up infusing those characteristic regional attributes of the day. The principal driver here would be to occupy a minimal ecological footprint and ensure broad reaching sustainability by addressing issues of livelihoods, traditions, skill-sets, managed change, etc.
Two, we could be guided by notions of our current global expression, and work incrementally on reducing all resources related to the built environment. Here, the concern is that it would become purely a number crunching exercise... lesser change to soil, lesser waste, lower energy, etc. Today we have cement plants in accessible distance (a relaxed, looser radius thanks to current Green Building Codes), but does all the raw material for making the cement come from the same region? Steel comes from a plant within a similar acceptable distance, but what about the resource that it needs to run? The coal, the power, the iron ore, etc.
Glass can be made to have a greater green quotient, through greater recycled content, and can be made more insulative, but what about the energy that goes into the making of such glass?
This second option makes me wonder if by our current building choices we create resource guzzlers (unsustainable buildings) and then venture out to make those very components efficient? What if we chose not to use that much glass, or that much aluminum panels with insulation? Could there be a rethink of what sustainably built buildings could look like?

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