Europe’s Multicolored Green Buildings

The New York Times’ architecture critic observes that architects in northern Europe have moved past the first phase of green building design — in which the building had to wear its ecological sensitivity on its sleeve — to the second phase. Now, the technology and know-how have been so thoroughly mastered that a building can be efficient and pretty at the same time. And in the U.S.? The Times compares:

After more than a decade of tightening guidelines, Europe has made green architecture an everyday reality. In Germany and the Netherlands especially, a new generation of architects has expanded the definition of sustainable design beyond solar panels and sod roofs. As Matthias Sauerbruch put it to me: “The eco-friendly projects you saw in the 1970s, with solar panels and recycled materials: they were so self-conscious. We call this Birkenstock architecture. Now we don’t need to do this anymore. The basic technology is all pretty accepted.”

In the United States, architects cannot make the same claim with equal confidence. Despite the media attention showered on “green” issues, the federal government has yet to establish universal efficiency standards for buildings. Yet, according to some estimates, buildings consume nearly as much energy as industry and transportation combined. And the average building in the U.S. uses roughly a third more energy than its German counterpart.

Something else I hadn’t thought about: "[A] building’s efficiency should be measured not just by its mechanical systems but also by how much energy it uses over its lifetime. More energy is expended in a building’s construction than at any other stage, so a structure that lasts 100 years will use far less energy than one that lasts 5, no matter how efficient."

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