“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci
This spring, the first LEED certified house in Aspen, Colorado sold to a private buyer. Featuring all the bells and whistles of modern environmental design, the house is a massive 6,750 square feet (the average United States home is around 2,000 square feet) situated on 2.33 acres with six fireplaces. But is building a house more than three times the size of the average American home, notwithstanding its use of green technology, really being eco-conscious?
Green is the buzzword among designers from all persuasions. Everyone from construction companies, to engineers, are coming up with ways to reuse, rebuild, and re imagine materials that are more earth-friendly. Architecture firms like Perkins and Will have embraced this trend and have produced glitteringly massive new projects that make use of a slew of new “eco” technologies like e-glass, solar power, radiant heating, and green walls.
These projects, while making innovative use of new technologies, ultimately don’t represent the true spirit of green design. Nevertheless, many architects are focused on responsible design that combines the innovative use of materials with a minimalist ideology that dictates its ecological footprint. Glenn Murcutt is a well-known Australian architect that creates minimal footprint dwellings that conserve energy through simple means. His project, The Marika-Alderton House, embraces “green” while using few modern advances. Passive ventilation keeps the house cool and precludes the need for air conditioning, even in the hot Australian outback. Shutters block the sun’s heat far more effectively and at a much lower embodied cost than e-glass. The house is on stilts, which makes costly foundations and chemical sealants unnecessary.
Being “green” doesn’t always mean using the newest or most efficient materials. Sometimes it means buying a smaller house or taking any number of well-measured steps in the design process. As Da Vinci stated far better than I could, simplicity isn’t simple.
Do you feel that engineering a truly eco-conscious structure requires more consideration than a blanket application of technologies?