What Goes into Green?
by Kaid Benfield
The American Institute of Architects has announced its top ten green projects for 2010. Sponsored by AIA's Committee on the Environment, and published in ArchitectureWeek No. 472, the award winners are each worthy of citation for excellence in internal design, in most cases reducing their environmental impacts significantly below those of similarly located but conventional buildings while also serving as teaching exemplars. So far, so good.
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But what they don't do — or, if they do, it is generally accidental — is help shape the form of their communities in a way that further reduces impacts below those addressed by the buildings themselves. I've questioned AIA before on this count.
We know from research that where we put a building can have a bigger impact on the environment than how we design it, through transportation emissions and the impacts related to associated neighborhood infrastructure. Even the "greenest" building (judged internally) will hurt more than help the environment if it is placed in sprawl or an otherwise unwalkable location.
In other words, my view is that sustainable architecture is only worthy of the name if it is in the right places, and includes design that respects and enhances the community around it, including neighborhood walkability.
I would expect the most award-worthy green architecture also to include great public spaces, be placed on well-connected and pedestrian-friendly streets, include superior public transportation connections, attain densities that support efficient use of land, and contain mixed uses in multi-building projects.
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This article is a reprint of "I Wish AIA Didn't Define 'Green' so Narrowly" by Kaid Benfield, copyright © 2010, and is published with permission of the Natural Resources Defense Council.