ruminations about architecture and design

Thursday, November 18, 2010

carbon neutral, net zero and sustainable

Well, here it is: the long awaited, much heralded, carefully planned, best green architecture prototype ever. This is the standard we have to match if we want true sustainable buildings. The only thing with less embodied energy is a cave, and since caves are accidental, "found" architecture, they can't serve as a good, inspirational model.

I worry that the standard implied by "net-zero" is unachievable. Modern buildings and modern lifestyles are consumption driven and thermodynamic principles conspire against the viability of an absolutely resource neutral structure. By setting the standard so high we tend to ignore the marginal, and often subtle, improvements that have moved architecture forward. The most recent example that comes to mind is furnaces--some modern gas-fired systems have a rated efficiency of 97%. We've hit the upper boundary for that part of the heating system. Insulation standards for building envelopes are improving. In fact, we may be making the big jump to exterior dominated systems, which will mark a significant improvement over the current cavity method.
The net-zero standard for buildings is an incredible long-term goal. It may be achieved before world peace, the end of poverty, and a consistently dominant Red Sox team. In the mean time we should be focused on more incremental improvements. The auto industry cannot build a car that goes a thousand miles on a gallon of gasoline and no architect can design a modern building that beats an igloo.

No comments:

Post a Comment