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Green-house effect [New Haven Register, Conn.]
[August 30, 2009]

Green-house effect [New Haven Register, Conn.]

(New Haven Register (CT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 30--NEW HAVEN -- It can now be said: As environmentally conscious and progressive as many of the early "green" residences were, their design was often not as kind to the eye as it was to the environment. Aesthetics took a back seat.

No more. A new exhibit at the Yale School of Architecture's Paul Rudolph Hall gallery, "The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture & Design," looks at 20 houses that epitomize the new architectural response to combining both pleasing design and responsible environmental principles.

"That was one of the criteria that it was not just how it met the criteria for sustainability, but also met a certain criteria for design quality," said Dean Sakamoto, director of exhibitions at the gallery.

It's a full-service exhibit, which not only presents gorgeous examples of the buildings in full-color photographs and about models of the buildings, but also educates visitors in those environmental principles, notably 18 tips on upping their own greenness.

The traveling exhibit was created at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., and is the gallery's first exhibit of the academic year.

It just opened Monday, but, based on early attendance, Sakamoto predicts that "it will be one of our most popular shows ever. It has a house component and a green component." He calls the exhibit "useful and informative on many levels. It's accessible to everyone, as in the tip on how to brush your teeth (don't leave the water running), and on a higher level it raises the aesthetic appreciation, makes ordinary people think green architecture connected to a higher level of design go hand in hand. They're one and the same.

"At the end of the day, we have to live with the things we build. Why not make them pleasing and inspiring at the same time?" The houses, designed by a varied group of international architects, are grouped by their locations, such as City, Mountainside, Desert, Anywhere, Waterside, Tropics, Suburbs, from Australia to Europe to California, China and points in between.

The exhibit points out that one-fourth of the energy in the U.S. is used to power homes, so making them more efficient can make a huge difference in world energy consumption.

As much as homeowners have been preached to about being environmentally responsible, they still want that responsibility to come in designs that look like real houses inside and out, not factories.

"After the '80s oil crisis, there was this big movement toward solar power," said Sakamoto. "These solar and earth houses were ugly. ... But in the last 10, 15 years, good designers, top design architects have started designing these houses. We've turned the corner, and that's what this exhibit shows." The sustainable materials present a palatable appearance while pulling off what the exhibit calls the "5 Green Principles of Sustainable Homes," displayed and illustrated on panels and interactively, including a push-button table model explaining how solar energy works: --Optimal use of the sun; --Improve indoor air quality; --Use land responsibly; --Create high performance and energy-efficient houses; --Wisely use Earth's natural resources.

There is much emphasis placed on cities, which, according to the exhibit, occupy only 2 percent of the world's land, but consume 75 percent of its resources.

Verde Via, a New Housing New York Legacy Project set to be finished in 2011, offers urban housing options ranging from 202 apartments, an 18-story tower, a 6-to-10-story midrise duplex, townhouses, all with exterior cladding of insulated panels, a multifunction garden spiraling up to a sky terrace and an anticipated LEED NC 2.1 Gold rating.

Viikki Eco Housing in Helsinki, Finland, is called "the world's largest and most ambitious green housing development" -- 13,000 units, a university campus, marshland, livestock grazing areas -- all designed to produce a self-sufficient environment with reduced emissions, renewable energy technology, gray-water systems to recycle sink and tub water and land for residents to grow their own food.

The Material Resource Room, features "touch" panels illustrating sustainable wood choices, nontoxic paint and plaster, various wall systems of insulating foam and pre-cast concrete, thermalpaned glass and photovoltaic cells.

In the so-called Summations Gallery, architect Michelle Kaufmann takes visitors on a video tour of Glidehouse, her Novato, Calif., residence which she built because she couldn't find anything affordable that conformed to her green standards.

The pre-fab house is made of harvested wood, with double-paned windows, a solar electrical system that takes it off the grid, shade screens, renewable wood interior fixtures, nontoxic paints and energyefficient plumbing, heating and lighting.

The 20 houses present solutions to a myriad of problems. Those located near water, such as Studio Gang Architects' Pinecone House, built post-Hurricanes Rita and Katrina in Biloxi, Miss., have built-in features that "safeguard the house from nature and nature from the house." Open breezeways allow for ventilation, with perimeter verandas for shade.

"They worked with FEMA to come up with a prototypical house structured like a pinecone to work with hurricanes in the future," said Sakamoto.

Also noteworthy is the Mill Valley Straw-Bale House in Marin County, Calif., with walls of straw bales and a roof insulated with cellulose from recycled newspapers. Recycled glass countertops complement salvaged doors, and clerestory windows flood the interior with light but little extra heat gain.

Casa de Carmen (Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects) in a remote location in Baja California Sur, Mexico, is dually challenged by its desert/waterside climate. A stunning traditional Mexican courtyard house, all its energy is produced by photovoltaic panels. Its hefty concrete walls minimize heat gain.

Getting top grades for innovation: Los Angeles' Seatrain house (Office of Mobile Design), an urban house made from recycled seagoing containers and materials salvaged from its industrial site.

"With the trade deficit, there are a lot of empty containers now, and it wouldn't make sense to ship them back to China. That would cost a lost of money," said Sakamoto.

Also, the P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E project (Prototype for Advanced Ready Made Amphibious Small-Scale Individual Temporary Ecological Dwelling) house in Rotterdam, Netherlands (Korteknie and Meehthild Architecten).

This treehouse-like bright yellow residence sits attached to a stair tower on the roof of an old industrial building.

P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E 's mission is to build prototypes for sustainable living in urban settings, such as former industrial sites, rooftops of existing buildings and other "disused" urban locations.

Sakamoto is hoping that by presenting what's happening in green design, "it will raise the bar as to sustainability and raise the bar for general design." It's fascinating stuff, and promises better to come, both in design and environmental accountability. Donna Doherty may be reached at (203) 789-5672 or

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