Real Green Design

As LEED becomes its own industrial behemoth, I find it interesting how many things we have forgotten as a society. Those “leeders” which I know are familiar with the latest green-inspired heat recovery systems, bamboo flooring, photo-voltaic cells (fka solar panels), and water-conserving fixtures. But what about those age old solutions which worked so well?

First: walking. And I don’t mean this 1/4 mile business, either. I read once that the typical medieval villager walked more than 10 miles per day. Yes, that’s per DAY. I have seen so many maps which have 1/4 mile circle (or its cousin, the 5 minute walk) inscribed around a metro station or bus stop. While it is a good reference, it is hardly any effort at all to walk a quarter mile. C’mon people!

Next: bamboo flooring. I have seen excellent presentations on the harvesting of bamboo for construction purposes. All of which showed images of forests of bamboo growing at an incredible rate. But, oh yeah, they were in China! So we grow a huge batch of bamboo and then ship halfway around the world to use it for a home in New England? Or even here in Colorado? What about the indigenous forests of the United States? It was said once that a squirrel could travel from New Orleans to Chicago without touching the ground. Certainly, with responsible harvesting, we can utilize the resources in our own back yard AND create jobs for our economy simultaneously.

How about solar panels? They are a great and they are expensive. But have we forgotten how to site a building? Traditional builders in New England and the Mid-Atlantic region gave serious thought when they constructed the first houses in the New World. They did not have the luxury of building an extra fireplace if the house didn’t catch as much light as they desired to keep warm. And the best part is that siting the building is 100% architect! No consultants needed; its all our work.

It seems our desire for permanent buildings is at odds with our sustainable dreams. Many large buildings are framed with either concrete or steel. Both systems have processes which are wholly non-green. Seriously–take a tour of a steel mill or a concrete plant. I think “black” is a more suitable word for them. Is there another way to frame a large structure which could break the steel-or-concrete debate?

Now consider a Lakota teepee or Haudenosaunee longhouse. Both were built of readily available materials, easily replaced, and 100% natural. All travel was on foot, of course, or horseback. And if a natural disaster destroyed one of these buildings, they could easily be replicated.

A book I recently read about the Haudenosaunee described their culture at the time (late 1800s) as lacking monumental, permanent, architectural structures like temples or government buildings. Unlike the Greeks, the Noble Savage’s culture and buildings, when gone, would be like the leaves of autumn–falling to the ground, covered by snow, and gone without any evidence they were there at all. Now THAT’S what I call real green design.

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