5 Exciting New Ideas in Green Architecture

With the global population increasing exponentially and a planetary ecosystem in jeopardy, sustainable living solutions are becoming ever more important. Fortunately, necessity is a great catalyst for invention and innovation, and many of the best thinkers have risen to the challenge. Here are five exciting new ideas currently gaining momentum in the world of green architecture!

1.   Verdant Surfaces

Bosco verticale

Also called Vegitecture, this involves integrating organic, planted spaces into the structure of buildings. This has a variety of benefits, from air purification, to soundproofing, to aesthetics and comfort, to insulation and even growing vegetables. Bosco Verticale in Milan, Italy (right) is a wonderful example; currently under construction, this ‘Vertical Forest‘ (the literal translation) consists of two residential tower blocks festooned with a series of concrete decks, on which 2.5 acres of trees and shrubs are currently being established. As well as shading and cooling the residents within, this will absorb CO2 and help with Milan’s long-term dust problem.

A smaller scale example is Casa CorManca – a modern, sustainable home in Mexico City, which includes an internal, three-storey verdant wall in an inner courtyard – helping to control the temperature and air quality, and providing a serene and organic element to the feel of the home.

2. Radiant Heating & Cooling

An alternative to air conditioning, radiant heating and cooling work by controlling the temperature of an indoor surface, by circulating water within embedded plastic or aluminium piping. This takes advantage of the principle of radiative heat transfer: if the surface is cooler than the room, heat is automatically taken away (radiant cooling) and likewise, if the surface is hotter than the ambient temperature, heat will be transferred back into the room (radiant heating).

In India, where air conditioning accounts for 30-40% of energy consumption, this idea has really taken hold. The Hyderabad Campus in Andhra Pradesh, for example, was built in two huge, identical wings. This provided the perfect testing grounds to make a comparison, and Infosys, the company responsible for the build, took full advantage of the opportunity. One wing was fitted with conventional air conditioning, the other with radiant cooling systems. Upon testing, it was found that the radiant cooled half of the building consumed 38% less energy, and even turned out to be slightly cheaper to build than its conventional, air conditioned counterpart.

3. Tiny Homes

The smaller the house, the smaller the footprint!

tiny homeThis principle has lead many green enthusiasts to make the move to a more compact way of of living, and driven some wonderful innovations in space management. These range from the conceptual and experimental (Isolée), to the very basic (MetaPod), to the down to earth and wonderfully practical (Clothesline Tiny Homes). The concept has even worked for entire families – as demonstrated by Hari and Karl and their 2 children, who built their own tiny home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Georgia for a mere $12,000 – which highlights another benefit of tiny homes: dramatically reduced costs. Many converts to tiny living will build their own home, and even after buying a plot of land and the cost of materials and labour, tiny homes are still much cheaper than buying a ready built home – especially when you factor in the marginal costs of heating and cleaning a much smaller space.

4. Green Building Materials

The materials used in a building project are as important (if not more) than its design and method of construction. Reclaiming and recycling materials is one method of keeping the footprint low, and many green projects are making use of this principle. A beautifully elegant example is Arctic Plank, an Icelandic idea and brainchild of Högni Stefan Thorgeirsson – it involves  reclaiming old wooden shipping pallets, which would otherwise be wasted or used as firewood, and ‘upcycling’ them to produce herringbone and parquet patterned flooring, with both indoor and outdoor applications.

Equally exciting are some of the newer developments in the technology of building materials. Hempcrete (right), a construction material made of hemp, lime and water,

hempcrete

is energy efficient, non toxic, fire and insect resistant, and may even have a higher R-value (thermal resistance) than traditional concrete. Biological concrete is even more unusual – currently being developed in Spain, it utilizes a moisture absorbing outer layer, to facilitate the growth of moss and lichens on the outer surfaces of buildings – absorbing CO2, and acting as a thermal regulator. A waterproof layer deeper down in the concrete prevents internal damp problems.

5. The Lilypad Project

It seems fitting to end with something futuristic and outlandish, so here it is! Lilypad (heads up – site features music) is essentially a huge, floating human habitat which can be constructed out on large bodies of open water – coastal regions of the sea and lakes being the most likely candidates. Hugely ambitious, wildly experimental and currently nothing more than a pipe-dream, the project has value to fire the imagination to future possibilities, if nothing else.

lilypad

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Staying Mentally Agile

One of the challenges I love about writing is having to be aware of the big and the small simultaneously – the wider context and ‘shape’ of a story, and the finer details which make it compelling and relevant. I think if a writer can convey both these aspects in their work, they’re probably doing at least one thing right.

What’s interesting to me is how difficult it can be to remain attentive to the bigger picture and the finer details simultaneously; I guess they require such different modes of thinking that it’s hard to do both at once. In any case, I often find it helpful to specifically split my time between the two whilst I’m constructing a piece.

I’ve discovered a number of activities over the years which I find extremely helpful in relaxing my mind, and maintaining the mental agility needed to flit easily between large and small scale thought. Here are some of my favourites for those of you who may be interested:

Meditation

I first learnt to meditate on a mountain retreat in Switzerland back in 2008. Since then I’ve practised on and off, and it’s always struck me how wonderful it’s been for my mental state and creative flow. I recently read a very interesting article here about the benefits of meditation on the creative mind, especially for writers.

Journal Writing

I started writing a regular journal 3 years ago, and still think it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Aside from being incredibly cathartic, I find the tangible feeling of pencil and paper very refreshing after hours tapping on my laptop. I always treat myself to a high quality Moleskine notebook (no, not actually made out of moles) which are incredibly sturdy and take me about a year each to fill.

Networking and Social Events

I love sitting on my computer researching and writing, but it is sometimes a little lonely and that can be creatively stifling. Living in Brighton, I’m spoilt for choice in terms of regular networking and social events for freelancers and writers, and I rarely pass up an opportunity to go and meet some real, flesh and blood people face-to-face. Absolutely the best contacts, advice and ideas I have received have been from these events, and since freelancers tend to be intelligent and friendly sorts, it’s always great to meet new people and be reminded that I’m not alone.

Exercise

Writing is very cerebral, and in spite of this, can take quite a toll on the body – sore back from sitting for too long a time, eye strain, the danger of RSI, and so on. I’m a healthfood and exercise enthusiast, and especially love running, martial arts and yoga. The harder I am working on my writing, the deeper I feel the need for regular, rigorous exercise as a form of release.

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BBC Africa – the greatest show on earth?

turtle africa

The work that BBC Earth has been producing over the last couple of decades (Frozen Planet, Blue Planet, Life, and so on) has been utterly peerless in its beauty, scale and  innovation, but I have to say the most recent series focusing on Africa might just be my favourite.

Watching the series felt to me like a hugely varied journey, in both a physical and emotional sense. As it moves from the Sahara and Kalihari Deserts to the atmospheric Congo, from the expansive Savannah to the roaring ocean currents around the great southern Cape, the drama and imagery is at times exuberant, playful, and moving, at other terrifying, heartbreaking, and bleak. It is consistently gripping and full of surprises – not least of which for me was how little I knew about the diversity and variety of this wonderful continent.

I don’t know if a series has ever made me want to go somewhere so much.

And apparently, I’m not the only one to feel this way. I recently came across this article outlining the huge boost that the series has had on sales of African safari holidays. Is this a good or a bad thing?

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