Green architecture can be broadly defined as the construction of buildings that minimize on the consumption of natural resources and are environmentally friendly. On the other hand, sustainability can be defined as economic and social development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. On an architectural point of view, sustainability can be viewed as the ability of maintaining the ecosystem without depleting its natural resources today whereby the effects will be seen in the future. Green architecture came into the limelight in 1970s in response to visible evidence of environmental damage and rising fuel prices and this gave birth to the first Earth Day occasion. Minimization of wastage on natural resources makes architectural designs economically friendly. For the buildings to qualify as environmentally friendly, they should be built in such a way that there are no harmful emissions to the atmosphere and no dumping of waste materials into the environment.
Over the years, architecture has evolved to include in its designs technologies that avoid wastage of resources like water and electricity. Architecture has also adopted ways of recycling materials to minimize on consumption and wastage of these materials. This paper seeks to establish examples of this type of architecture and its benefits to the environment.
Construction companies have incorporated ways of saving energy in their designs, as well as ways of reducing emission of carbon into the environment. Buildings in cities account for about 15% of carbon dioxide emissions, hence being responsible for climatic change problems and the solutions to these problems. By fitting in modern methods of construction, carbon dioxide emissions into the environment can be reduced significantly. One method that construction companies have incorporated in buildings is energy saving. They have employed the use of solar energy which is far more economical than electricity. Other energy saving features in today’s green architecture include well- distributed lighting fixtures and demand controlled ventilation. The lighting takes advantage of daylight such that there is no need of putting on power during the day.
The daily damage being inflicted on the environment has left architects with a huge responsibility of taking care of nature. They understand that natural resources do not last forever and have to be protected. They are aware of a new sensibility that links architecture to environmental concerns. Eco- efficient buildings release less emissions into the air, send less waste materials into the landfill and make less dangerous chemicals. Eco-efficiency comes along with reducing, reusing and recycling of materials. Architectures of eco-efficient buildings employ different tools to minimize energy loss. Buildings are tightly sealed to reduce heat and cooling loss, hence reducing the need for air filtration. Dark-tinted windows that emit light but reflect heat lowers solar income into a building, therefore lowering the need for air-conditioning. This cuts on fossil fuel consumption and the power plant in turn releases fewer pollutants into the atmosphere.
Formal innovations can also be used to make big buildings more resource efficient. For example, Edificio Malecon, a 125,000 square Ft building was designed to reduce the heat of the sun by pinching its long narrow mass on the East and West ends and using sun-shades to screen its broad northern and southern sides. These innovations eliminate direct solar radiation during peak cooling months.
Recycling building materials and retrofitting building mass are also ways being employed to reduce the environmental impact on large buildings. For example, renovation of the Audubon Society’s offices in a 100-year old building in Manhattan preserved 300 tons of steel, 9000 tons of masonry and 560 tons of concrete while making the building a model of high-tech energy efficiency. As an emerging market of reusable materials like glass, sheetrock and carpeting becomes more stable, the use of these materials will be a rule more than an exception. Dematerialization, the strategy of using fewer materials to make things, is also another technique being employed in green architecture to reduce resource consumption.
The choice of building materials have been proved to affect the health of the people living in a building , the ones building it and those who dispose off the construction materials. Certain construction materials, e.g., (polyvinyl chloride) PVC, which is a common ingredient in doors, windows, floors and wall coverings, contains heavy metals that are carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting. These materials seep-off and accumulate in tightly sealed buildings making the air that the people in those buildings breathe harmful. Green architecture employs use of materials that are less toxic like glass, steel and concrete. The use of less toxic materials reduces enormous illnesses and improves the living standards of people. Clinica Verde is an example of a non-profit organization that seeks to address and combat health problems among the impoverished. Their work is to take care of the health needs of the people while at the same time designing a clinical structure that incorporates highest possible standards in sustainable building practices. The structure will demonstrate respect for the shared resources of the world.
Another resource that is largely wasted in architecture is water. Architects attempt to curb run water, reduce waste water and use natural plant materials to mitigate the impact buildings have on their surroundings. Large buildings can consume millions of gallons of water a day while during rainstorms millions of gallons of water are lost to practical use. Water runs off to sewers and into the ground absorbing toxins from the construction materials. Architects have come up with ways of using this run-off undrinkable gray water in sinks and toilets. This saves a lot of clean water that is otherwise used in drinking and other household chores. Greenery, which helps promote health by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, is also employed in green architecture to treat chemically saturated run-off water before releasing it into the environment. In some instances, greenery and other organisms are even being used to transform waste water into safe drinking water.
Dumping of waste materials at construction sites have also become a major concern for many environmentalists. The construction materials mix with rain water and seep through the soil. This leads to degradation of the topsoil and increases desertification. The same rainwater is carried to water bodies e.g. rivers and oceans and pose a great danger to marine life. Waste water (sewerage) from buildings also poses a great danger to the environment when dumped into water bodies. Green architecture employs tapping of the rain water and directing it to some other use like toilets, while making sure that waste water doesn’t reach water bodies.
Another way that green architecture is employing to conserve the environment is the use of eco-roofs planted with sod and native grasses. The green roofs help lower a structures energy use by promoting natural evaporation in summer and providing insulation in winter. The green roofs also contribute to the beautification of cities, but most importantly, green roofs contribute to the clean, fresh air in the city, which is hard to come by. The shrubs absorb the emitted carbon dioxide and releases oxygen into the air. They also control runoff water, reduce sound reflection and transmission. The green roofs also help maintain local wildlife though small scale and counteracts the harmful effect of urban heat island which makes urban areas a few degrees warmer than rural areas. A good example of a building that has eco roofs and gardens is the Commerzbank in Europe. The building has green gardens after every 10 floors. It also uses double glass walls that naturally ventilate the offices and sets a new standard for the high-rise monotonous repetition of floors common in other buildings.
Another green architecture method is the use of density in designing structures. Density reduces a society’s overall drain on resources. City dwellers occupy less space and have no lawns to water, share heating systems with their fellow neighbors and use public transport. Their counterparts in suburbs live in single family houses that occupy large space and use more resources. The most successful green projects in cities are moderately dense and clustered. Low-impact materials and technologies are on the rise in residential areas and they take advantage of green development methods for commercial buildings. Builders have made great impact in reducing environmental impact by making use of harvested lumber and recycled materials, installation of non-toxic and energy-efficient systems, selection of construction sites that take full advantage of solar and wind power. The conversion of industrial buildings into residential properties is also intrinsically green. Re-use of old structures by renovating them is also a good way of preserving the environment.
Eco-friendly building should also be easy to access. That means that a building should be connected well to public transport. People living in urban areas are more likely to use fewer resources than those living in places away from the city. This is because a person living far uses fuel driving to their place of work while the one living in the city might just walk. Planners are narrowing the commuting distance between the commercial and residential areas and designing complex transportation systems within residential areas. Planners and green architects think about the environmental impact of their structures by including transportation costs in their calculations about the sustainability of different materials. With the recyclable resources, existing infrastructure and density of suppliers, cities have turned out to be the best sites for home building.