Technological advances have made it so there’s practically no excuse not to integrate green architecture principles into new construction. While standards like those for LEED certification are a terrific starting point, it’s important that cities and communities answer basic questions about why they should build responsibly and the best ways to go about it.
Green architecture can be put into practice countless ways, including roofs that are home to vegetation.
The activity of construction, coupled with building operation and maintenance, accounts for significant greenhouse gas emissions. But architects have far more tools today for designing structures that minimize environmental impact, or even generate their own sustaining power resources.
Smart, efficient buildings are nothing new, of course. Many of the most lauded buildings worldwide have been ones that respected their immediate surroundings and how they fit into them. With technologies like LEED tiles, green roofs, and photovoltaic (PV) cells, green architecture is more attainable than ever. Here are some materials and technologies that will power the green architecture revolution.
Geothermal Technology and Green Architecture
Different types of geothermal energy wells are found beneath the crust of the earth. Some connect to steam sources that can be used to power geothermal heat pumps, for example. Despite large variations in temperature on the earth’s surface, underneath the crust, the temperature is typically hot and stable. Geothermal technology uses these heat sources to generate electricity and heating for structures built on the surface.
Harnessing the possibilities of geothermal wells requires drilling into the earth, and installing well rings in the drill holes for structural soundness. Some wells can be connected to geothermal power plants, where heated water powers turbines, and others transfer heat to other materials that can be used in power generation. Geothermal wells that connect with structures’ integrated heating and cooling systems circulate water through a building’s structure, warming it in the winter and pulling heat out of it in the summer. Using closed-loop geothermal wells means that these power sources are indefinitely sustainable.
Biomorphic designs are structures that are built in harmony with their surroundings. One famous example would be American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater home, built in 1935. Biomorphic designs don’t have to be as completely enmeshed in the environment as Fallingwater, but they are generally made so that both the exterior and interior elements of the structure have a harmonious, “organic” look and feel.
Biomorphic designs are nothing new, but today they can be made sturdier and more environmentally friendly than ever.
Fluid, organic architectural forms continue to be popular, and by nature they lend themselves to green architecture, taking advantage of environmental features that can form a mutual symbiosis with structures. With advances in computer-aided design and construction, biomorphic forms that look like everything from nests to waves can be created, and they can be powered by green technologies like solar photovoltaic (PV) panels or geothermal wells so that structures not only look organic, but also adhere to green architecture principles.
Photovoltaic and Other Alternative Power Types
Geothermal wells represent just one type of alternative to the use of fossil fuels to power buildings. Renewable energy systems are rapidly becoming more efficient and cheaper. In some cases, multiple types of power generation are tapped, improving energy performance compared to using a single power source. For example, a hydropower plant and a photovoltaic (PV, or solar) plant may work together to power structures, sometimes working in parallel, sometimes relying on one or the other depending on conditions.
The control system of the hybrid power structure manages the use of component plants and ensures efficient power is always available. For example, a hybrid PV/hydropower system typically includes reservoirs that store water and power in batteries. Different operational strategies put different demands on the reservoirs, ensuring the “greenest” power production at all times.