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Gimme Shelter, But Make It Green

Worldwide, the building and construction industry uses an estimated three billion tons of raw material each year. That’s 40% of the total global use of raw material. In addition to the industry consuming raw materials, it also generates an enormous amount of waste. In 2008, 143.5 million tons of construction waste was generated in the United States alone. Even worse, only 28% of it was recycled.
In order to truly "go green" (as seen in Photo 1), today's architects must learn how to incorporate energy efficiency and recycling into their designs, for both retrofits and new construction. Being green is not only about the choice of material, but also the manufacturing process used to create it, as well as the impact that the removal of material will eventually have. This includes how much water is used in the making of a product, the amount of recycled content it contains, how much of it can be recycled, and how renewable it is.

Architects are instrumental in making "green" building a reality. They have a great deal of influence on their clients' choices, including the ability to recommend eco-conscious building materials and energy-efficient appliances, as well as design choices that include best practices for the environment. Savvy architects can also include water catchment systems and gray water recycling. In addition, many government agencies provide incentives and cost-offsets for the installation of solar electric panels (as seen in Photo 2).
As going green becomes a more specialized field in architecutural design and planning, some firms have taken on a completely eco-friendly approach. Considered a pioneer in the green architecture movement, Todd Jersey Architecture was early to embrace environmentally friendly construction practices. In 2006, the firm installed chemical-free landscaping, 100-percent recycled tile, and many other innovative elements to help the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa achieve its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification, making it the first hotel in the United States to receive such a designation. 

Energy-efficient design can be used in restorative projects with impressive results, as well. Todd Jersey Architecture recently completed an eco-friendly restoration of the 80-year old Richmond Municipal Natatorium in California (as seen in Photo 3), or more affectionally known by the locals as the "Richmond Plunge." Instead of using municipal drinking water, the public pool now features salt water--heated by a locally manufactured solar thermal system, and pumped using power from the solar panels on its roof (as seen in Photo 4). Along with native landscaping, and high-efficiency lights (as seen in Photo 5), the Richmond Plunge has been touted as one of the "greenest pools in the country."

For those looking for "greener pastures," many universities and trade schools offer eco-focused degree programs. For example, UC Berkeley has a graduate study program in Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning that emphasizes green urbanism. According to a 2011 DesignIntelligence survey, the following 20 schools also offer highly regarded architecture programs that focus on environmental planning:

1. Cornell University
2. Syracuse University
3. Rice University
4. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
5. Virginia PolyTech
6. Southern California Institute of Architecture
7. Carnegie Mellon University
8. Pratt University
9. University of Texas
10. University of Southern California

1. University of Michigan
2. Harvard University
3. Yale University
4. Columbia University
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
6. Cornell University
7. University of Cincinnati
8. University of Pennsylvania
9. Washington University of St. Louis
10. University of Texas, Austin


Photo 3 Courtesy Of Malcolm Lubliner of CityVisions Photography
Photo 4 Courtesy Of Scott Haefner of Scott Haefner Photography
Photo 5 Courtesy Of Ruth Zablotsky