For millennia, man has considered the development and growth of human society to be totally detached from the state of the environment. From agriculture to transportation, livestock-raising and construction, this has been true of all human endeavour. In recent years, however, more and more people feel that we cannot continue like this, that we must drastically reduce the environmental impact of our actions. The rapidity of climate change – we have seen extreme and exceptional weather events in recent months – clearly shows how important it is to change course as soon as possible to limit its detrimental effects.
We hear increasing talk about energy management, the use of recyclable materials, and even zero-impact construction. Green building is an environmentally-friendly approach to construction that encompasses all of these new trends. This article provides a full definition of this concept.
What is Green Building?
Green building, green architecture and sustainable architecture are basically synonyms, although the last of these refers more generally to sustainable building. The term green building indicates all methods of conceiving, designing, constructing and subsequently managing buildings to minimize their negative impact on the environment. Citing studies by the Institut für Baubiologie + Nachhaltigkeit IBN, Italy’s National Association of Bioecological Architecture explains that green building is based on “criteria for a healthy, natural, sustainable and aesthetically-appealing living environment, covering building materials and forms in the environment, as well as ecological, economic and social aspects.” Bio-architecture focuses on materials and construction techniques for new buildings and renovations/conversions to effectively integrate buildings, their inhabitants, and their surroundings.
The Principles of Green Building
The international institutes that developed the cornerstones of sustainable architecture and green building define the most important principles for this design- and construction-led approach as follows:
– Selecting materials: A building only qualifies as sustainable and environmentally-friendly if the construction materials chosen minimize present-day and future pollution, and the building has been optimized for energy consumption and noise. Choosing the right materials can also extend the building’s life, which has a further positive impact on construction sustainability.
– High-quality indoor climate: For a long time, little or no attention was paid to indoor air quality. When designing an ecological building, however, it is vital to minimize harmful and irritating substances on the exterior and interior to avoid generating allergens, bacteria, mould and toxins, as well as minimizing electromagnetic fields.
– Integrated approach: For a building to be green, each team member must have expertise in the field, and everyone involved, from the architect to the construction company, must work towards the same goals. Only then is it possible to ensure that all of the most appropriate construction solutions have been considered, the most appropriate techniques used, and so on.
– Energy optimization: An ecological building must have low energy requirements, and where possible seek to autonomously generate at least some of the energy it consumes. Energy conservation is a top priority for sustainable architecture.
– Environmental analysis: Every project must start with an in-depth analysis of the local landscape and terrain: this is the only way to ensure that the finished building will be compatible with the surrounding environment, and not compromise the local equilibrium.
Green building focuses on enhancing the well-being of the building’s inhabitants and the environment. The materials chosen merit special attention. What are the most suitable building materials for bio-architecture?
The Best Green Building Materials
A number of matters need to be taken into account to choose sustainable building materials. First of all, we must acknowledge that natural resources are not inexhaustible; secondly, the choice of materials must take into account disposal, the energy sunk into producing materials, levels of toxicity to humans and the environment, and so on. Bearing all that in mind, wood in its various forms makes a fine material for bio-architecture: laminated wood, mineralized wood fibre, bamboo, cork and so on. Gypsum, straw, jute fibre, cellulose, expanded clay, expanded lime and wood cement are other typical green building materials.
Bio-architecture: Applications and Techniques
Beyond the selection of materials, what are the practical principles of green building? Buildings certified as being sustainability by bodies such as Ecolabel, LEED and Green Globes show that a well-defined group of techniques achieves excellent end-results. For example, buildings that rely on natural ventilation to eliminate indoor pollutants such as odours and fumes, eschewing mechanical ventilation for effective air renewal.
It is possible to cool a building without air conditioning by avoiding overheating through sunshades or loggias, strategically arranging plants along the outer walls, or using high thermal inertia materials. When it comes to indoor climate control, wood is not just an excellent thermal insulator, it is a 100% eco-friendly, renewable and recyclable material that may be used in different parts of the structure for achieving a variety of advantages. Reducing a building’s environmental impact also requires high levels of water savings, for example by providing a system for rainwater collection and green space irrigation.