The Green House: a review

Treehugger thanks Raincoast Books, purveyor of treehugger-approved Harry Potter books and Princeton Architectural Press for sending us a copy of The Green House- New Directions in Sustainable Architecture by Allana Stang and Christopher Hawthorne.

Let's get this over with right away- this book is not about green or sustainable design. It's about camera ready green design- drop dead gorgeous houses that any architectural magazine would happily do a spread on. If any book defined the treehugger aesthetic, this is it.The authors point out that truly green architecture should be:

•As small as possible for a house that uses every sustainable technique will not be as kind to the Earth as practically any house half its size;
•Located as close to public transportation, workplaces, schools and /or shopping as realistically possible.

Many of these houses do not make any pretence of this. The authors acknowledge this openly and point out that green architecture often has "no edge, no, buzz, no style" often "populated by the self-righteous and the badly dressed" (sound familiar, treehuggers?)
They have accepted a lesser standard- many (but rarely all) of the following
•recycled materials
•wood from sustainable sources
•materials low in embodied energy
•natural and easily replenished materials
•efficient lighting systems
•energy efficient insulation and ventilation to promote natural ventilation instead of air conditioning
•features that take advantage of solar gain in heat and light
•interior materials and finishes that promote good air quality.


And the choices buzz with edge and style. This treehugger's favorite, Kengo Kuma's Great Bamboo Wall, is huge, luxurious and really hard to call green, but it's not hard to call it stunningly beautiful architecture.

There are guest houses in Tasmania, pool houses in Venice, mountain houses in Tucson and all of them can be criticized for being in the middle of nowhere and needing expensive transport to get to and maintain. On the other hand there are urban projects in Seattle, Santa Monica and Helsinki that demonstrate that one can get good design and reasonable densities.

We love the separation by climate and typology- different conditions demand different responses. We are not crazy about the arrows over beautiful pictures pointing out features of the architecture.

In conclusion: an eclectic and interesting selection of houses; excellent demonstration of technologies and approaches to sustainability. And great green eye candy throughout. It proves that green design can be elegant, sophisticated and beautiful. It's not just going off the grid and putting solar panels on the roof of an architectural walk-in cooler, it is about using skill and talent to design a house with timeless beauty, something many of the green houses shown on this site have lacked. ::The Green House

Strunk and White
say that good writing does not include adjectives; I apologise but this book and its contents merited them.