Sustainable building has taken off round the world, with developments happening in one country being copied and improved upon in another.
This is in part due to increased media coverage and social awareness of the issues affecting the environment through climate change, and an understanding of the need to use less of the earth’s resources.
The American architect Michael Hodges, featured in the third case study, summed this up when interviewed for a new documentary film, ‘Garbage Warrior’ (2007) talks of his wish to design and build dwellings that “use no resources whatsoever – they should produce energy and food from within.”
Architects share information about technological innovations and improved design, and study developments worldwide that enable them to build more ecologically stable buildings, both for use as homes and as offices or community or commercial use. Sustainably minded architects and designers will also know or study the local environment to see what specific issues might effect, or be incorporated into, a future new build.
Case Study One: ‘The Gherkin’ Building, London
30 St Mary Axe, London is the address of perhaps the most unusual, and sustainable building in the UK. This building, owned by a Financial Services firm, built by renowned British architect Sir Norman Foster in 2004 has been nicknamed the gherkin for its highly unusual shape. It is built of a diagrid steel network, which enables it to be free of columns.
Sustainable innovations in the building include a reduced wind load, and a cooling system within that draws air through panels in the façade. These have been made possible by the building’s sleek aerodynamic profile. Subsequently the Gherkin uses half as much energy as other comparable office buildings. Abundant natural light is also a major feature.
Case Study Two: Building with Internal Greenhouses, Wuhan, China
Two Israeli architects, Tagit Klimor and David Knafo, based in Haifa, Israel, have designed a high-rise sustainable energy complex, and are in the process of building it in Wuhan Province, China.
The project is unique because each apartment will have its own integral greenhouse, enabling the occupiers to grow their own food. The architects even envisage apartment owners growing enough produce to sell. The greenhouses will be about 100 ft. square, with special features installed such as climate control, drip irrigation, rainwater collection from the roof, and the use of soil-free growing systems. Water will also be recycled collectively from each apartment.
The design won this year’s prize from the 2nd annual living steel International Architecture competition for Sustainable design, held in Belgium in September 2007.
Case Study Three: Earthships and More, Taos, New Mexico
Michael Reynolds is an extraordinary eco-architect living and working in the New Mexico Desert. For over 30 years he has been pioneering all types of sustainable architecture – building with discarded rubber tyres, building with discarded plastic bottles, and experimenting with solar gain and thermal mass issues in a range of buildings and styles, that he freely admits are sometimes ‘mistakes’.
British director Oliver Hodge documents the life of this pioneer architect in a new documentary film ‘Garbage Warrior’ (2007). In the film, Reynolds admits he isn’t optimistic for human society in the future, and part of the film shows him struggle against local politicians to continue the experimental work of design and construction for the future.
However this is mitigated as viewers see Reynolds and his construction crew fly to the Andaman Islands after the 2006 Tsunami and build earth houses for the devastated survivors. They also did this for residents of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina had wreaked havoc there.