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Eco-Sense in British Columbia, Canada, a Living Building Challenge entry, is made of clay, sand, straw, and pumice.

90°

They were built with local materials,

near where people farmed or hunted, in sizes that made sense—maybe just big enough to dry out your goatskins. And these early dwellings were built in concert with the weather: Homes in hot, dry climates were ventilated to push air through, and those in cold ones were sealed with thick, heavily insulated walls, oriented toward the sun for natural heat. Architecture didn’t have much of a carbon footprint, and it was local. Flash forward to the mid-twentieth century, and you can see how buildings lost their green sheen. In the 1930s, technological innovations like structural steel, air-conditioning, vinyl siding, reflective glass, and panelized, prefab construction allowed for more buildings, faster. The Federal Housing Administration, created in 1934, provided mortgages for middleclass Americans, making the dream of single-family home ownership both realistic and ubiquitous. And the Federal-Aid Highway Act initiated the construction of 40,000 miles of highways, allowing people’s homes to be far from their workplaces. In part a miniature history of sprawl, these events also tell the story of how buildings got de-greened; how we no longer had to build in a vernacular manner. Homes got bigger and farther away and more toxic, and the tract homes in the sprawling suburbs of heat-soaked Phoenix appeared in the icy environs of Minneapolis.

“The building sector is really the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the country and the world.”

“The building sector is really the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the country and the world,” says Edward Mazria, founder of Architecture 2030, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions produced by new construction. Today, buildings consume up to 76 percent of the United States’ total electricity and emit 43 percent of our greenhouse gases. And the same mistakes are repeated in the 5 billion square feet of built space created nationwide every year. But now, the next phase in the history of green building is underway. A band of visionary architects, designers, engineers, and builders have recognized how far we’ve strayed from the principles that informed our earliest architecture. They’re harnessing both advanced and ancient technologies to dream up structures that make even the current standard of responsible building—the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system—pale in comparison. While LEED certification measures and rewards a reduction in energy use, for instance, the architects behind the nextgeneration, beyond-LEED structures, called “carbon neutral” or “regenerative,” are aiming for designs that use no energy at all—to be energy positive or net-zero. The green building of the future doesn’t just do less harm to the environment; it improves it. It won’t just use less water; it will collect and treat it. It won’t just force air; it will filter it. And it won’t just save energy; it will create it. Buildings are not only about to breathe like people—they’ll also give back like good Samaritans. 74 | august-september 2008

Plenty Magazine Issue 23 Aug/Sept 2008  
Plenty Magazine Issue 23 Aug/Sept 2008  

beyond the bulb> the best Ideas In green desIgn krIstIn gore kIlls her laWn | saIlIng greece | gossIp gIrl’s eco star

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