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Green Architecture And Sustainable Design Boosts City Building To The Next Level

Photo courtesy of the AIA, modified by Curiousmatic. 

Three percent of the Earth is urbanized, home to architecture of all styles, ages, and cultural relevance.

Beyond cities, which will likely last ages as jagged remnants of the anthropocene, age of man, humans have built on and occupied just about 10% of land — but have as much as 80% connected with trains, roads, and highways.

Humans are excellent builders, certainly — but we’re even better pollutants. Even in the limited amount of the world we’ve built upon, we’ve managed to accelerate the entire planet’s warming significantly since 1970, a trend that we’ve only recently attempted to mitigate.

Better building is one of many ways to ease up human stress on the environment — as it is, buildings are surmised by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) (pdf) to contribute one third of greenhouse gas emissions, and consume 40% of all energy.

Architecture goes green

For decades, architects have been doing their part to make buildings more sustainable, both in style and system — a mission that is not only trendy, but sellable, writes architect and author Philip Nobel for the NY Times.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on the Environment selected the 2014 top 10 examples of green architecture in April of 2014.

Expand for five of the AIA's picks & images

1. A homeless shelter in Portland, Oregon that uses graywater recycling and solar hot water, saving $60,000 in energy costs annually.  

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2. A park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (but called Bushwick Inlet Park) that transforms a decaying waterfront into a public green-roofed leisure zone.
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3. A new campus center at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry that supplies 60% of the campus’ heat and 20% of its power, using a green roof and solar design.

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4. A Boy Scouts sustainable “treehouse” that has built-in solar power, wind power, and a 1,000 gallon reservoir and water cleaning system.

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5. A Minnesota Land Port of Entry that employs the first ever ground-pump heating system, is built of sustainably harvested cedar and recycled materials, and has a work space with 91% daylight access, reducing the need for electric light.

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The solutions these selected projects exemplify (recycled material, on-site power, green roofs, etc) make the most practical sense going forward, as their designs smartly eliminate waste and excess power.

Sky-high solutions

But others are thinking of even bigger, sky-high creative sustainable solutions. For example, the winner of the MoMa PS1’s annual Young Architect contest was essentially a mushroom tower, made of bricks that are grown instead of built using a new economic design called Hy-Fi.

Designed by David Benjamin of New York architect firm The Living, the structure is organic and compostable, both naturally cooling and reflective of sunlight.

Greening New York City

Sustainable architecture firm Terraform Research Group has another even larger idea that would, in theory, transform all of New York City’s architecture so that the city would be self-sustainable, growing food on roofs and buildings instead of relying on transport.

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Image courtesy of NYC (Steady) State via Tumblr.

Called the NYC (Steady) State project, the study serves as an innovative architectural alternative for NYC’s future rather than an actionable plan.

Still, the remarkable and evolving thought experiment may well serve as a breeding ground for larger-scale greening ideas.

The takeaway

An estimated 48% of nonresidential buildings will be sustainable by 2015, utilizing better materials and incorporating smarter designs and systems.

So even if you won’t be living in a mushroom in this lifetime, if you look closely enough, you’ll notice the greening trend is flourishing right under our noses.

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