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Wiser Living

Finding a natural solution

Green Architecture: Building and Living Green Part 1

by Bill Hutchins, AIA, principal of Helicon Works, an ecologically responsive architecture and building collaborative

Tags: green building, bill hutchins, green architecture, don't build, sustainable building, sustainable architecture,

At a recent green building conference, the moderator of a breakout session asked what steps we can take to “build greener.” “Install solar panels.” “Superinsulate.” “Build with local materials.”

Appreciating those as important considerations, and with some trepidation, I raised my hand and said, “Don’t build.”

Granted, it seems odd for an architect who makes his living from building to recommend not building. But I went on to say that perhaps 80 percent of the projects we’ve done during the last 20 years didn’t “need” to happen. I told the gathering that when I meet with clients who want to build an addition on their home these days, I often end up talking them out of building an addition at all.

Instead, I encourage them to reconsider how they live in the space they already have.

The first act of building green is to live greener—sustainably and with an ecological awareness. To consider how we most innately live, think back to the way we lived as young children—everything appeared to us to be alive, asking to be engaged with, whether it had a heart or was found under a rock (or both!). The central act of living, that children naturally understand, is to deeply value all things and to seek to be a part of their wondrous, mysterious ways of being. This is “living” as an integral part of our local ecosystem. And it is at the heart of living green

Another central aspect of living green is to recognize life is a paradox and that there are always issues from both sides—the yin and yang of life—that need consideration. Balance is essential and we all make choices. This leads to a harsh reality—there is no
absolute “green” building, only shades of green.

We cannot build 100 percent green for a variety of reasons, which hinge on this—there are many aspects of green that need to be considered. Most simply, there is responsible material sourcing; using as little energy as possible, or even generating energy; building a healthy, nontoxic home that respects all hands involved in the building, including those at far-away factories and fields. These criteria are augmented by the mantras of “build small” and “build locally,” with both material sourcing and labor. It takes great diligence and careful analysis to meet all these criteria with every one of the hundreds of choices.