What Exactly Is Green Architecture?

Published Categorized as Sustainability
Green Architecture

The construction industry consumes approximately 50% of the world’s resources. Are you also aware that architecture contributes to 40 – 50% of waste and 20 – 30% of greenhouse gas emissions? Concerns about this sad state of affairs led to the growth of green architecture.

Green architecture is an architectural philosophy advocating for eco-friendly building processes. It calls for sustainable materials, energy and water conservation, and using new technology to upgrade buildings. The approach also focuses on waste reduction.

This article will explore a few topics related to green architecture. Keep reading to learn more.

What Is the Meaning of Green Architecture?

Green architecture refers to a philosophy or approach that advocates for sustainable building. Hence, it encourages architects to develop designs with the environment in mind. Green architecture aims at minimizing the adverse impacts of construction on human health and the environment.

Industrialization and human settlement have had adverse impacts on the environment.

For centuries, humans have invented ways to make their lives more comfortable on the planet, including constructing luxurious buildings. And their quest for shelter and comfort has significantly depleted the earth’s resources.

For instance, non-renewable fossil fuels have contributed to the depletion of natural reserves.

Apart from consuming resources, building causes increased waste deposits and the emission of greenhouse gases. Therefore, it has led to environmental degradation and negatively affected human health.

Also referred to as ‘green design,’ green architecture is the philosophy that attempts to counteract the adverse effects that construction has rendered on the earth.

The approach calls on humans to adopt sustainable buildings to conserve the environment. But, this initiative also seeks to improve the quality of life by reducing health and environmental hazards.

Environmentalists warn that climate change could wipe out species that cannot adapt to adverse conditions. Hence, they advocate for green architecture to conserve the environment to sustain life.

Moreover, they encourage architects to adopt sustainable designs throughout the construction process, including consultations, site surveys, plan modification, and material use.

Since green architecture has become popularized in recent years, is it a mandatory construction requirement?

There’s currently no legislature requiring architects and developers to go green. Therefore, green building is an option in most communities. They only have to adhere to the building code requirements.

Nonetheless, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) encourages architects to consider surpassing these requirements to enhance building performance and reduce its negative impact on health and the environment.

Hence, they can opt to implement green designs on all or some building components. For instance, they can invent strategies that enhance energy efficiency or water conservation.

The History of Green Architecture

Don’t mistake green architecture for modern philosophy, as it has been around for centuries.

The earliest utilization of this concept was in the ancient civilizations by people who lived in extreme environments. For example, the Montezuma Castle in Arizona was established on a remote desert cliff and comprised a passive design that controlled the interior climate.

Another example of ancient green architecture was the Arabic settlements comprising high towers and open courtyards. These served as wind crates that facilitated ventilation in the desert climate. Hence, the green design concept was historically a means of survival as it involved collecting natural light and ventilating interior spaces.

However, as humans progressed in civilization through industrialization and urbanization, they ignored the green concept. They focused more on convenience at the expense of exploiting the environment.

As a result, the adoption of other energy sources, including electricity and petroleum, contributed to environmental degradation.

Green Architecture in the 1960s

In the 1960s, a youth movement raised concerns about the perceived impact of the suburban sprawl and congestion in the United States. Moreover, most of them migrated to the rural areas to evade the greater community. They also adopted a minimalist lifestyle to reduce their impact on the environment.

Green Architecture in the 1970s

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a more integrated form of eco-activism sprung up. The pioneering activists of green architecture were Lewis Mumford, an American architectural critic/social philosopher, a British Scientist, James Lovelock, and an American landscape architect, Ian McHarg. The trio defined green design and popularized environmental concepts.

Mumford suggested a straightforward definition of green architecture that summarized their proposal of utilizing solar energy to minimize power wastage.

Moreover, McHarg framed the green architecture rules, advocating for clustered development and preserving the natural environment. And Lovelock based his Gaia hypothesis on McHugh’s “whole earth” concept that depicted the planet as an organism that had to remain sustainable to survive.

Also, in the 1970s, Arne Naess, a Norwegian philosopher, invented the “deep ecology” (ecosophy) theory, alleging that the western eco-activists had a shallow meaning of nature.

Advocating for a more profound comprehension, Naess campaigned for biological diversity since all creatures depended on each other for survival.

Despite the philosophers’ and eco-activists efforts to advocate for green architecture, the world was utilizing more fossil fuels. And by 1973, there was a crisis as the OPEC (Organization of the Oil Exporting Countries) significantly raised the cost of oil. Therefore governments started shifting their focus to alternative energy sources, including geothermal, solar, water, and wind.

Green Architecture in the 1980s and 1990s

Green advocacy accelerated in the mid-1980s when movements mushroomed, including Environmental Action, Greenpeace, and the Nature Conservancy.

Then, in 1994, the U.S Green Building Council formulated the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards. So this was a significant breakthrough for architects and builders since they now had the criteria for designing and constructing eco-friendly buildings.

Green Architecture Today

Today, green architecture has become an essential consideration in the construction industry. There’s currently a global focus on advocating and popularizing this concept. Therefore, more and more architects are shifting to crafting sustainable designs with environmental conservation in mind.

Characteristics of Green Architecture

As discussed, green architecture advocates for the construction of sustainable buildings. Therefore, architects have experimented with numerous designs that incorporate green features. Most developments may include a few or several sustainable parts, but the basis for any green construction model considers the natural ecology concept.

Now, let’s look at the common characteristics of green architecture:

Sustainable Site Development

Green architecture is a philosophy that encompasses the entire construction process. The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) provides guidelines on a sustainable design for the whole project. NIBS has also laid out interrelated objectives that an architect or developer can utilize from the planning through to the utilization stages.

LEED also provides standards that architects should follow when designing green buildings. And, like the NIBS, LEED recommends that a construction process comprise green features right from the first step that entails site development.

So, what’s sustainable site development, and what does it entail?

In simple terms, sustainable site development ensures the preservation of the environment surrounding a construction project. It seeks to conserve natural resources to sustain the current and future generations. Furthermore, this concept aims at striking a balance between environmental conservation and economic prosperity.

Sustainable site development starts from responsible and eco-minded site selection. And it involves the following:

  • Reusing or upgrading an old building to green standards discourages building on previously undeveloped land that contains wetlands or wildlife habitats.
  • Reducing buildings’ impact on the ecosystem and waterways by conserving and restoring natural vegetation and water sources.
  • Improving a previously contaminated site – by minimizing construction-related pollution and treating stormwater runoff.
  • Minimizing emissions due to transportation by promoting alternative means of transport by offering bicycle racks, and parking for fuel-efficient and low-emitting vehicles.
  • Having sustainable landscapes – by reducing the use of fertilizers, pesticides, invasive plant species, and irrigation.
  • Preventing light pollution – by minimizing light trespass or night glow, and the impact of interior (or site) lighting on nocturnal environments.
  • Reducing heat island effect – through the installation of reflective surfaces and increased vegetation on-site to minimize solar radiation absorption and emission.

Sustainable Materials

Green architecture encourages the use of sustainable materials in the construction process. The incorporation of these materials makes buildings eco-friendly. Moreover, they enhance the quality of life by minimizing health and environmental hazards.

But, what are sustainable materials?

Sustainable materials are green materials that have passed through eco-friendly processes to enhance durability and sustainability. Therefore, using them during construction will not harm the environment and be cost-effective. Moreover, these materials pose no threat to human life but improve it.

Here are the features of sustainable materials:

  • Reusable: They include recyclable materials. Most of them are unique and enhance a building’s versatility. They comprise recycled glass, wood, and metal.
  • Economical: They don’t require costly processes or energy to obtain or manufacture. Hence, they’re primarily natural (non-synthetic) materials, such as bamboo, that nature offers freely.
  • Locally and appropriately sourced: Green materials become sustainable when you source them locally without harming the environment through transport methods that consume too much fuel. Furthermore, obtaining them should not negatively affect the workers or the surrounding community.
  • Energy-efficient: They comprise renewable and natural energy sources that don’t degrade the environment. When installed in buildings, these materials help in reducing energy costs. Examples include solar panels and cells.
  • Resilient and durable: Sustainable materials are resistant to natural and artificial forces. Therefore, they’ll remain firm when installed in a building and boost its property value. Examples include natural stone, plastic lumber, and perforated metal.
  • Improve the quality of life: They enhance the quality of air, heating or cooling, and water in a building. A perfect example is cellulose insulation, a nontoxic material made from recycled paper or denim.
  • Emotionally durable: Due to their durability and high quality, sustainable materials serve people for many years. Therefore, they attach emotional value to them.
  • Low impact on the environment and health: Sustainable materials are eco-friendly and nontoxic. Hence, they pose no harm to the health of people, animals, or vegetation.

Water Conservation

Water efficiency is an integral part of green architectural designs. As such, construction involves the installation of water-saving plumbing fixtures. Additionally, it entails incorporating components to clean and recycle gray water to ensure water quality.

Green architecture also advocates for the installation of components to collect rainwater. Additionally, there are systems to regulate water consumption to minimize wastage. Moreover, sustainable designs protect natural water reserves by reducing pollution and over-consumption.

Energy Efficiency

The use of renewable energy sources is vital in green architecture. Architects craft designs that facilitate energy efficiency in buildings. Hence, they ensure minimal energy consumption and wastage to minimize costs.

Green energy advocates for the use of natural and renewable energy sources, including:

  • Solar
  • Water
  • Wind
  • Geothermal
  • Biomass
  • Natural gas

Moreover, the philosophy encourages natural lighting by taking maximum advantage of the sun’s position.

Improved Indoor Quality

The use of sustainable materials in construction improves the quality of indoor air. For instance, installing nontoxic materials ensures minimal emission of toxic gases into a building’s interior. Furthermore, it’s preferable to maximize the natural airflow to ventilate buildings.

Green architectural designs recommend the use of eco-friendly air conditioning fixtures. These systems are also effective in heating and cooling. Therefore, they boost the quality of life while minimizing adverse effects on the environment.

Reduced Wastage and Pollution

Since green architecture seeks to conserve the environment, it discourages pollution and waste deposits. Therefore, a building’s design should ensure minimal wastage of resources before, during, and after construction. Moreover, the process shouldn’t pollute the air, water, or soil on the site and the surroundings.

Advantages of Green Architecture

Green architecture provides numerous benefits to the entire ecosystem. These advantages facilitate the concept’s principles, including environmental conservation, energy/water efficiency, waste reduction, and sustainable materials. Therefore, it encourages humans to promote biodiversity and protect the environment, creating a safe planet for all organisms.

Let’s have a closer look at these benefits:

  • Environmental advantages: Green architecture encourages environmental conservation and reduces wastage (and pollution). So it reduces the depletion of natural resources and environmental degradation.
  • Social advantages: It improves the quality of life by enhancing indoor air quality and minimizing health hazards. Therefore, people living in green buildings enjoy a safer and healthier living space.
  • Economic advantages: It saves on energy, water, heating, cooling, and ventilating costs. Also, green buildings have higher property value than contemporary ones.

Examples of buildings that have incorporated green architecture include:

  • California Academy of Science, USA
  • Beitou Public Library, Taiwan
  • Iberdrola Tower, Spain
  • World Trade Center, Bahrain
  • Museum of Tomorrow, Brazil
  • Pixel Building, Australia
  • Turning Torso, Suecia
  • Shanghai Tower, China
  • Parkroyal Collection, Singapore
  • Reforma Tower, Mexico

Parting Shot

Green architecture is a long-lived philosophy that calls for environmental conservation in the construction industry.

The concept has evolved, paving the way for modern organizations that provide guidelines and standards on green buildings. Hence, it’s a promising approach that’ll help preserve natural resources and sustain life for many generations.


By Giovanni Valle

Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.

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