Peter Buchanan, Curator
ARCHITECTURE ALONE CANNOT CREATE A SUSTAINABLE CULTURE. It can, however, make a major contribution to the pressing quest to devise ways of life that are less taxing on the earth's resources and capacities for regeneration. Buildings account for nearly half the energy consumption of developed countries, and therefore are the major cause of global warming, the most tangibly urgent of environmental problems.
But green design is not only about energy efficiency, and it is not purely a technical matter. Instead it involves a whole nexus of interrelated issues, the social, cultural, psychological and economic dimensions of which are as important as the technical and ecological--thus the 'ten shades' of this exhibition's deliberately ambiguous title. Ten shades refers to ten key issues that need to be considered to create a fully green architecture: low energy/high performance, replenishable sources; recycling; embodied energy; long life, loose fit; total life cycle costing; embedded in place; access and urban context; health and happiness; and community and connection. It refers as well to the built schemes that are the exhibition's focus, and to their various degrees of 'greenness.'
The buildings on display represent a variety of building types and architectural and engineering approaches. None was chosen because it is the most energy-efficient example of its type, or because it fully meets every criterion of the 'ten shades' (although Hopkins' Jubilee Campus is a remarkably comprehensive and accomplished work of green design on all counts). Rather, these particular buildings were chosen because they are complete works of architecture: buildings in which environmental responsibility is fully integrated with formal ambition and responsiveness to an enlightened vision of community life.
And they were chosen for their contrasts. The jewel-like Gotz Headquarters uses a sophisticated double-wall system and hundreds of electronic sensors to capture and distribute the energy of the sun, while the Minnaert Building demonstrates the possibility of designing the building fabric to do work typically left to a mechanical system, thereby retaking more of the budget for architecture. The Mont-Cenis Training Center shows how an enormous building envelope can create a microclimate that shelters new space for public life, reduces construction costs, and harvests enough ambient energy to eliminate the use of fossil fuels and even export energy. The four North American houses exhibited, amalgamated as one of the ten designs in recognition that no single house could represent such a large continent, show the continuation of the tradition of learning from the vernacular to respond appropriately to site, climate and local materials. The Beyeler Foundation Museum demonstrates that energy efficiency can be achieved even under the demands of maintaining closely controlled conditions for displaying art, while the Cotton Tree housing beautifully makes clear the possibility of achieving animated, place-specific, energy-efficient design on the constrained budgets available for public housing.
AS A GROUP, THE BUILDINGS PRESENTED MAKE SEVERAL CRUCIAL POINTS:
* There is no such thing as a green architecture or a green aesthetic. Instead there are countless ways design can address and synthesize green issues.
* Green design is not merely a matter of add-ons or product specification. It involves more than insulation, low-emissivity glass, non-polluting paints, and water-conserving toilets. Rather, it influences the form of the whole building and is one of its major generators from the first moments of the design process.
* As a corollary, pursuing a green agenda is no constraint on creativity but instead a major stimulus towards an architecture that is innovative, significant, and relevant.
* Greenness is not incompatible with the highest levels of architectural excellence. Europe's leading architects are also among its best exponents of green design.
* Green design acknowledges the dynamic interaction of buildings with their immediate natural setting and ambient forces. It is these interactions on which the design process focuses as much as on the resultant form of the building. This way of working draws on and parallels the most up to date insights from science.
* Many green buildings represent the leading edge of engineering design. In particular, the design of buildings such as Commerzbank or the Jubilee Campus is the product of predictive modeling techniques. Their functioning depends on neural network software and a myriad of sensors. Such buildings, which are produced through close collaboration with engineers from the first moments of design, need to be far more precisely engineered than conventional buildings.
The majority of the buildings presented come from Europe. There, individual governments have enacted stringent environmental standards for new buildings. The European Union has fostered green design by sponsoring applied research combining innovative technology and design. Clients, attracted by the economic advantages of green buildings, along with architects and engineers, have risen to the challenge of producing high performance buildings designed for long-term use.
The United States is far behind, and American architects will have to work very hard, very fast to catch up. Among the many challenges this poses, several stand out. Clients and architects will have to learn to think long term, rather than short term. They will have to rethink their measures of the impacts and profitability of a building, and consider its legacy to future generations. Architects and engineers will have to learn to work more collaboratively. They will also need to reopen themselves to understanding of, and respect for, the functioning of the natural world--an understanding that was once an expected part of an architect's knowledge and is currently the locus of cutting edge discovery and invention in other fields.
The challenges are significant, but the potential rewards are immense: an architecture consonant with, rather than destructive of, the natural world; an architecture that supports community; an architecture that offers much richer sensual experience of the environment and an intensified sense of place; an architecture, in short, that increases the quality of life.