Documenting a personal quest for non-toxic housing.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
The Green House
Sustainable archiecture has long been stereotyped by its typical choice of low-tech materials, energy-efficiency utilitarianism, and predominate organic design themes, driving some designers away from the field because of what they percieve as far too limited a potential design repertoire. But for some time a different branch of sustainable design, sometimes referred to as Eco-Tech, has been emerging among the community of New Modernists, picking up a trail first blazed by the likes of Buckminster Fuller. This alternative approach to sustainability is based on a very different paradigm where the way a building performs as a system and a consumer or producer of energy and other resources is far more important to its ultimate sustainability than the materials it's made out of. This is an approach which embraces new technology rather than turning away from it, seeing its smarter, more responsible, use as a path to a greener future.
Eco-Tech is a movement that has developed mostly among designers in Europe, Asia, and Australia, where Modernism in general has seen less cultural resistance than in America. In the US the theory of Eco-Tech has been the province primarily of a few futurist writers and alternative energy tinkerers. But there are some designers here -still mostly Modernists- now cluing in to this movement as a means to expanding the sustainable design repertoire.
With The Green House we get a nice introduction to this very different take on sustainability through a large selection of sample buildings from around the world. Predominately Modernist and European, these examples offers an intriguing look at how new technology is affording some very radical design a level of sustainability that even earth and straw bale would be hard pressed to match. Perhaps one of the most dramatic examples in this book is the R128 house designed by Werner Sobek in Stuttgart Germany. Here we see the ultimate sustainability non-sequitur; the Modernist metal framed glass box which -in the dead cold of a German winter- produces more energy than it consumes!
There is also a nod to the issue of housing toxicity among the examples in this book. While few of these homes might qualify as truly non-toxic housing, and few could qualify as 'affordable' by any fancifully creative accountant's interpretation of the word, there are some interesting elements in some of these homes that could well apply to any non-toxic home design, though often due to the basic nature of Modernist Minimalism to employ materials in their natural state rather than adultrate them with the usual finishings. One excellent example of this is the Tuscon Mountain House by designer Rick Joy. Here is a home design which, though probably never actively attempting low toxicity, has nontheless probably come as clost being low toxic as any home specifically designed for it, simply as a consequence of its design aesthetic and Modernst preference for simple spaces and unadulterated materials.
Altogether, this book is an excellent look at sustainability from a very different point of vie and should open some eyes to possibilities never imagined before.