“A house is a machine for living,” said Le Corbusier. And while that’s blatantly plagiarized from the Washington Post article referred to later in this post, it’s definitely one of those ‘true-dat’ quotes that seemed pretty appropriate at the top of green.mnp (sorta). In order to be a machine for living, a house must facilitate life, as opposed to death by natural disaster.
On that same note, it’s amazing what you can find just by doing a Google search for “green.” A little poking around, even just on the surface, can yield tons of information.
My good friend and associate, orange menace, from our very own architecture.mnp, has many times stated to me that it is the building and construction industry that is always at the forefront of environmental changes, and is always cataclysmic in any major change in that area: from the architects and designers of the manufacturing plants on down to guy who does the independent consultation for central air conditioning in your home. Nothing makes this more apparent than the current push in the industry for workable, feasible sustainability.
Sometimes people may wonder why we cover these apparently random green buildings on this page, so we just wanted to give an idea why. Moving right along…
The Sidwell Friends School middle school building was completed in September of 2006. It was named one of the top ten green projects by the American Institute of Architects this year.
Designed to foster an ethic of social and environmental responsibility in each student, the facility demonstrates a responsible relationship between the natural and the built environment.
Bicycle storage and showers are available, and the building is located within walking distance of a subway stop and several bus stops. Parking is available in an underground lot. A green roof and constructed wetland reduce stormwater runoff, improve the quality of infiltrated runoff, and reduce municipal water use. The wetland treats wastewater for reuse in the toilets and cooling towers.
The building was sited to take advantage of passive solar design. Together with high-efficiency electric lighting, photosensors, and occupancy sensors, daylighting minimizes lighting energy use. Solar-ventilation chimneys, operable windows, and ceiling fans minimize the need for mechanical cooling. Rather than develop a utility plant for this building alone, a central plant was created to serve the entire campus. A photovoltaic array generates about 5% of the building’s electricity needs.
Reclaimed materials include exterior cladding, flooring and decking, and the stone used for landscaping. Interior finishes were selected for their high levels of recycled content, low chemical emissions, and use of rapidly renewable materials.
Archidose, a blog near and dear to our hearts, also did a feature on this building last month. They have some good pictures of the project, one of which we stole. All images are copyright of Barry Halkin.
The wetland is but one of numerous sustainable strategies incorporated into the building’s siting and architectural design. These include rainwater collection on a vegetated roof, photovoltaic panels on the roof, solar chimneys for passive ventilation, sustainable (especially local and native) materials, high-performance glass and exterior walls and roofs, and exterior sunscreens that respond to orientation to maximize passive passive heating and cooling. With all these elements, the building becomes a tool for teaching sustainability, from the materials and technology to water treatment and co-existing with local wildlife.
Architecturally, the most attention-getting gesture is surely the exterior sunscreens, placed vertically on east- and west-facing elevations to respond to the rising and setting sun, and placed horizontally on the south face (the north face is free of screens to maximize sunlight). One important outcome of these screens is a unification of the existing and addition into a cohesive entity, oriented about the courtyard, like an environmental anchor.
I will spare you any of my own commentary and simply leave you with a quote from the Washington Post article that started this whole foray. If you want a real description of the school then read this article… it’s quite poetic.
The usual tour of a new building doesn’t include loving detail about the sewage system, a trip to the basement to check out the heating and cooling equipment, or a traipse across the roof to see how the building will handle storm runoff. Most people, proud of a spanking new bit of architecture, want to talk travertine marble and daring cantilevers.
But the stewards of the new middle school building on the campus of Sidwell Friends School are promoting it as one of the most environmentally friendly pieces of architecture in the country. And in the process, they’re thinking so much about the building as a collection of systems (photovoltaic cells, water filtration, passive solar) that you might think they were channeling the perverse vision of Le Corbusier from a century ago. A house, Le Corbusier wrote, is a “machine for living.”
There in a nutshell is the great challenge for what is known as the green building movement: What role will aesthetics play? Are green buildings beautiful because they’re environmentally friendly? Or should they be beautiful even if one doesn’t know the environmental agenda that is driving their construction? Put another way, can low-slung buildings with green, growing roofs compete with the uber-sexy architecture of titanium-clad twisty shapes and torqued walls and hallways?
Yeah? Well, I’ve got a quote of my own.
“It’s not easy bein’ green!” – Donatello, Ninja Turtles