Thursday, October 18, 2007

An Example of Sustainable Architecture

Anyone who knows me pretty well knows that architecture is one of my interests, not as in being an architect, so much, but in appreciating their creations. Frank Lloyd Wright, for example, is one of my favorite people from history. Frank Lloyd Wright seemed to have, for me, a perfect balance in his love for nature, love for the creations of people, and love for spirit, and always sought a harmony in the interplay of those three elements. While his buildings blended beautifully into their settings and enhanced the landscape rather than blighting it, his structures also contained the latest and greatest in technology, often incorporating some technique, system, or creation of his own devising, and at the same time elevated the hopes, expanded the dreams, and amazed the appreciative senses of those who experienced what he built. The house, Falling Water, is a good example of that integration and most viewers of that house understand viscerally what a wondrous creation it is, but a strident environmentalist would be horrified by the fact that Wright's house was built, in, or on top of, or diverts, the natural course of the waterfall--as if anything that man touches is an abberation and only pure and untouched nature is correct, forgetting quite handily that man is as much a part of nature as the trees and all the elements are, and mankind is going to continue to express itself to the fullest extent of its nature.

And man's nature is to use tools, to build, to invent, and to continue technological progress.

This doesn't mean that such building and continuing with technological progress can't involve the design and utilization of systems of sustainability. I am quite sure that if Wright were building today, he would be designing energy efficient structures that made full use of natural forces and the properties of the elements in ingenious, cost-saving ways and with a minimum of waste. He might also see to it that his structures in some way generated their own energy through an optimum use of solar, wind, or water power, and he might have even seen a way to incorporate something like a home nuclear power plant (a system of energy generation that is cleaner and cheaper than any other technological method we have today, and people wouldn't have any more of a reason to be afraid of this than J.P. Morgan was when he agreed to work with Thomas Edison to have one of the very first electrified houses). Wright lived and worked during one of the most optimistic and exciting times in our country's history, the turning from the 19th century into the inventing and technological 20th century. That our own new century (and new millennium) of the 21st century has replaced that optimism and excitement with an all-pervasive fear of technology and industrialism is not so much a reflection of the times as it is a reflection of people no longer thinking and understanding for themselves. But that certainly isn't everybody.

I fortuitously learned today of a pretty fascinating house that was designed for sustainability, efficiency, and cost-savings. This house has geothermal heat pumps that circulate water through pipes buried deep in the ground where the temperature naturally stays an even 67 degrees. This circulating water heats the house in winter and cools it in the summer, using only a fraction of the energy that traditional heating and cooling systems use. Also, rainwater is collected from channels in the roof that, along with all the wastewater from sinks, showers, and toilets, goes into purifying tanks underground and is saved in a 25,000 gallon cistern for use in irrigating the landscaping that surrounds the house. The landscaping of the property makes use of plants that are native to the local ecosystem. The walls of the house provide thermal mass for passive winter heating and insulation from the summer heat. These walls are made of a waste product or a discard of a stone that is quarried locally, a limestone that is a foot to a foot and a half thick and has a green color at the top and bottom, but is cream-colored in the middle. Most people want the cream-colored center, so the green portions of the stone are cut off and discarded; it is this throw-away green stone that clads this house, and apparanty it is very beautiful.

I mentioned in my previous post that Nobel-prize-winning environmentalist, Al Gore, consumes in his house twenty times the energy compared to the national average, whereas the house that I described uses only a quarter of the energy. Whose house do you think that is, that Gore maybe ought to emulate? The President of the Sierra Club, perhaps?

Well, no. That's the house of George W. Bush, in Crawford, Texas.

No comments: