Green architecture is a branch of architecture that strives to combine functionality with sustainability. As society becomes more aware of climate change and environmental issues, ecological architecture has gained exponential interest. Companies, corporations, and citizens find green buildings aesthetic, environmentally-friendly, and convenient. In fact, sustainable houses produce their very own renewable energy from solar panels, hydroelectric systems, and even geothermal springs. But what makes a structure a “living building”? Read more to find out.
The principles of “living building” architecture are:
- Usage of alternative energy sources. Buildings should operate off the traditional energy system through the sustainable employment of natural elements. Solar panels and collectors, wind turbines, geothermal systems, hydroelectric structures, biomass, and tidal power are some of the alternatives.
- Energy and resource conservation. Water needs to be recycled as many times as possible, and the same goes for energy. Isolation walls and windows should protect against energy loss while materials should endure weather variations.
- The employment of recycled and non-toxic materials. Materials that are still useful and that come from natural renewable resources are preferred.
- Standard conditions for humans. Creating a space that humans can live in is key. Otherwise, the building loses functionality and purpose.
- Integrating people into nature. The “living building” idea is about reconciling human needs with the natural environment without compromising the human lifestyle or mother nature’s elements. So, the two components can live in harmony.
A “living building” is a structure that’s in harmony with nature. Also, for a building to acquire the name of “living,” it needs to meet some requirements regarding water, waste, energy, recycling, and more. Here are a couple of fundamental requisites.
Since one of the green criteria of sustainable architecture is the concept of recycling, a “living building” should originate from an already-existing structure. This way, the architects re-utilize something that exists, and that needs optimization. The amount of materials is limited, and the costs diminish.
On the other hand, a green construction should also adapt to the geography of the environment without covering the landscape. For this reason, architects involve extensive planting in the designing of the building. So instead of creating a concrete jungle, the structure encourages nature to take over.
One of the first things you can think of when you hear the word “sustainable” is renewable energy. This aspect is quintessential for a “living building.”
A building can run on solar panels. These structures, located on the roof, utilize the free energy from the sun to charge a battery that electrical systems use to function. A “living building” is also oriented to boost the efficiency of the photovoltaic panels.
Alternatively, a structure can run on wind power. Wind turbines are vertical structures with a propeller. Houses can also present small scale wind turbines, which generate from 10% to 25% of daily required energy.
Heat and geothermal sources offer a consistent amount of energy in places where it’s abundant. Natural gas and biomass are the other two recyclable matters that can produce electricity.
A “living building” presents at least two of these renewable energy sources. One is usually the primary energy provider, while the other one is back-up.
Water can produce energy in collaboration with solar systems. But for a “living building” to be complete, it needs to have an efficient water system that recycles all the used water and purifies it over and over again. The source can be rain, and the installation can connect to solar panels for temperature control.
The sustainable building must have green components. Therefore, the construction presents furniture from recycled wood and walls with non-toxic chemicals. The materials should also be local and manufactured with the least amount of resources and energy. Furthermore, the structure should adapt to the fundamental needs of humans. This aspect includes proper ventilation, piping, and temperature management.
The structure can officially acquire the title of “living building” if it’s certified. The United States Green Building Council (acronym: USGBC) is one of the most significant organizations that can approve the construction. The program is called Leadership in Energy and Efficient Design (LEED), and it focuses on innovative architecture.
The idea of creating a “living building” is gaining more popularity across the globe. In the future, it will become the new standard for all types of constructions, as the Cascadia Region Green Building Council (CRGBC) states. In 2006, this group launched a first green campaign to encourage more architects, business owners, and corporations to adopt sustainable design solutions. Whether it’s adding solar panels on the rooftop or creating a brand-new ecological structure, the CRGBC pushes boundaries and challenges the traditional norms of architecture.
The green building can receive Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum titles based on the number of eco-friendly elements that the building includes.
At the beginning of 2006, only 60 projects were applying for the LEED title. Since then, the number has increased exponentially.
One of the leading examples of “living buildings” is the Omega Center for Sustainable Living. The structure, located in Rhinebeck, New York, is a one-level 6,200 square foot center. Here, the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies has its headquarters.
The building has rain gardens that recycle water, photovoltaic panels, and a geothermal system for cooling and heating. The water is recycled through a 4,500 square foot greenhouse, while natural light illuminates the indoor instead of using electricity. All materials are recycled, and the structure acquired the name of “net-zero” building. “Net-zero” refers to the amount of energy consumption: the structure uses exactly what it produces.
Robert Taylor, a top manager, is one of the first private persons who upgraded their home to a more eco-friendly structure. He lives in Wales, UK, and his house runs on wind power and solar panels that he installed on the rooftop.
Ten years ago, the costs of solar panels and other renewable energy systems were an expensive investment that only companies could afford. Today, however, the number of businesses that produce sustainable structures has increased, and technology has advanced. Now it’s even possible to create green trailers. Composting toilets, in-built sewage systems, and rainwater purifying systems constitute eco-friendly campers. Many of them are also electrical and have a large battery that offers you the possibility to live off the grid for a day or two. Furthermore, mainstream vehicle corporations like Nissan and Fiat are working on developing increasingly green and autonomous automobiles: cars, RVs, and even trucks.
The idea of creating “living buildings” is the new norm. However, the structure needs to:
- Be made from recycled, non-toxic materials, possibly from the ruins of an existing building.
- Use renewable energy from the sun, wind, or other green sources.
- Recycle water as much as possible.
- Adapt to human living standards.
- Not compromise the landscape.
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