THAT’S SUSTAINABLE!: The Bad News about Green Architecture

THAT’S SUSTAINABLE! is San Frooklyn’s report on society’s current obsession with all things “green”…a highlight of those doing it right, and a call-out of those who are doing it for all the wrong reasons.

Ok, before you rail on me for hating the planet, I think we can all agree that the term “green” has way over-saturated our culture, and the driving desire to be “sustainable” has tainted the goal of the movement. Case-in-point: at Peet’s yesterday morning, this woman in front of me orders an iced coffee…and asks for it in a paper hot-drink cup instead of the plastic cold-drink cups. When the guy behind the counter curiously asked why, her (beyond unnessarily snotty) friend barked “because it’s better for the environment!”. They then left the store, which is on an active pedestrian and transit-accessible main street….to get into their SUV. Seriously? Stop yelling at coffee shop servers and take a bus, woman!

Anyway, a new article in the upcoming issue of Newsweek highlights this exact conundrum with regard to architecture.

Keep reading for more, including the impending awesomeness that is the California Academy of Sciences, seen at left)

Calling out the inefficiencies of LEED (don’t even GET me started), the author also brings up the innate hypocracy of “Green McMansions”. Call me old-fashioned, but since when did 10,000 square feet become the norm in new residential construction? Shouldn’t we focus on the fact that some of the most practical building systems (read: sustainable!) are encorprated in small-scale construction that is sensitive to both its place and purpose?

Enter the new California Academy of Sciences. Designed by the (DELIGHTFUL!) Renzo Piano and opening in 17 days here in San Francisco, the new building is appropriately scaled for its setting in Golden Gate Park.  While it does integrate the flashiest of new-fangled “green” technology (sensors that dim or brighten the lights depending on weather, solar cells tucked into the roof overhangs, insulation made out of recycled denim), the most innovative sustainable practices are the conceptual ones: there is no artificial cooling system – instead all the windows are operable to take advantage of the constant cool winds off the nearby Pacific; the rolling green roof with over 40 native California plant species that will absorb nearly two million gallons of rainwater per year that would otherwise go down the drain and tax the city’s water treatment plant; the water for the saltwater aquarium is pumped in from a network of pipes that extends like fingers beneath the sand of nearby Ocean Beach.

Ok, so I have an archicrush on Renzo Piano and plan on visiting the building as soon as it opens (when the newest issue of Metropolis got to our apartment last week, I squealed with excitement because it was on the cover). But the new CAS is, as Piano says, “a building that breathes with nature”, and isn’t that the whole point of Green Architecture?


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