Spring 2016 PlushBeds Green Scholarship recipient:
University of Missouri
How One Person can Make a Difference for the Environment
In a world that is becoming more and more environmentally concerned with each passing day, it's easy to get caught up in how much water we waste or how much trash is polluting the air. We hear about the people that refuse to bathe more than once a month, and we hear about the people that only flush the toilet once a day, and while yes, those things are important factors in the untenable future of our planet, maybe it's time we start looking at the bigger picture. It's not often that you hear about how much waste and pollution construction causes, or how much greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the extraction and production of raw materials, but in comparison to the amount of trash we produce as humans, or the water we waste on a daily basis, these issues arguably surpass the amount of strain we are putting on our ecosystem. So, when faced with the question of how one person can make a difference for the environment, you can definitely consider sustainable architecture as a front runner.
One huge thing every inhabitant on Earth has in common is the need for shelter. Whether it's a tree house in an indigenous tribe of Brazil, or a high rise in New York City, nearly every civilization across the world utilizes architecture in their own way. Although it may take a team to implement, it only takes one person to design a building that is going to impact the lives of sometimes thousands of people, as well as potentially having a huge positive impact on the environment. As an architectural studies student, I often learn about architects who have single-handedly designed some amazingly impactful buildings, not only on the environment in which they're built, but on the lifestyle of the people inhabiting them. One of the greatest things about sustainability in terms of architecture is the amount of factors 'sustainable' can be applied to. By definition, the word environment means the aggregate of surrounding things, conditions, or influences. Generally, the word itself is most closely associated with its ecological connotation, but the environment can be so much more than just the ecosystem. While the ecosystem is possibly the most important factor, sustainable architecture can also be thought of in terms of tenant health, social factors, economy, or building lifecycle, among other things.
It is no secret that our world is slowly becoming one giant concrete jungle. But, in the midst of the non-stop land development, there are still people that are taking the time and effort to try and integrate green living into the city lifestyle. Via Verde, for example, is a successful attempt at sustainability in the middle of a busy city. Located in the Bronx, and surrounded by dingy, waste inducing high rises, Via Verde is a multi-unit building that comprises townhomes for family living with 20 story apartments to offer affordable housing to a variety of tenants. Because the building is located in a city with few quality grocery stores to provide its citizens with good produce, there are rooftop gardens to offer fresh foods and a sense of community within the neighborhood. There are also solar panels covering one side of the building, and it faces south to allow for optimal sunlight in order to reduce heating costs. The building is estimated to be over 30% more energy efficient than standard housing. Comprised of recycled aluminum and wood panels, panoramic windows, and sunshades, construction of the building was also as environmentally friendly as possible. This building was initially designed by one person, Vincent Chang, and that one person was able to positively impact the environment as well as the health and social benefits of hundreds of tenants. There is so much thought that must go into designing a building like this, which is why it's so amazing to think that one person can potentially do all of this good for the environment of not only our ecosystem, but also the social environment for the people that inhabit our ecosystem.
One element of design that is becoming very prominent in sustainable architecture is mixed use building. Allowing a building to perform two functions at once eliminates the need for unnecessary development of land that is valuable to the world's ecosystems. Architect Bjarke Ingels is creating ways to not only design one of the cleanest power plants in the world, but also turn it into a tourist destination by disguising it as one thing Copenhagen, Denmark seems to be lacking, a ski slope. In addition to adding innovative design to a drab building, Ingels is working with aerospace engineers to produce a measurable element to the previously immeasurable idea of pollution. For every ton of CO2 the building collects, it omits a ring of steam into the air. The idea is that citizens of Copenhagen can look into the sky, count the rings, and get a visual of how much pollution is being omitted by the plant. Hopefully, this element of design will motivate people to recycle more and make more of an attempt to be environmentally friendly. By presenting a visual reference, this feature could present a whole new level to the future of energy recovery.
For someone looking to make a career of individually helping the environment, sustainable architecture presents a very wide range of opportunity for potential effect. Sustainable design is the future of our planet, and while architecture is definitely a team effort when it comes to the end result, like all great things, it starts with a single idea. At first glance, architecture may seem like more of a standard necessity than an attempt at environmental outreach, but this necessity is what sets sustainable architecture ahead in comparison to other outreach programs. This element of necessity will allow architecture to do more for the environment in the long run, while simultaneously doing more for the community and wellbeing of the inhabitants of the buildings, whether that be a green living establishment, a power plant, or an office building.