What It Means to Be Green 

Exhibitions in Richmond and D.C. explain how sustainable architecture can make a difference.

click to enlarge art32_arch_green_100.jpg

At the Virginia Center for Architecture, the term is thoughtfully explained and illustrated in "Ten Shades of Green: Architecture and the Natural World," an exhibition documenting 10 large-scale projects around the world that address questions of energy performance, possibilities for reuse, connection to community, and the health and happiness of occupants, to name a few.

Curator and critic Peter Buchanan assesses each of these projects using his 10 criteria, laying out the possibility of solutions through innovative and expressive design. While acknowledging that no one project can cover all criteria thoroughly, Buchanan presents recent examples — office, academic and museum buildings along with single- and multi-family housing —that are designed with holistic, even poetic, sensibility.

Hall 26, an exhibition hall in Hanover, Germany, designed by Herzog & Partner, exemplifies how necessity is the mother not only of invention, but also of rich and meaningful experience. To save construction time and costs and to maximize natural light, the firm created a roof system suspended on prefabricated trusses. The resulting structure meets lighting and ventilation needs while creating a light-filled environment as inspirational and powerful as a cathedral.

"Ten Shades of Green" best explains how the movement has become one of complexity in form and definition. "Green" is sometimes gray, because green builders have found that following environmental guidelines is a game of trade-offs. Materials and practices might satisfy some requirements but conflict with others. Energy costs to fire brick, for example, may outweigh the value of the material's long lifespan. Designed with sophisticated heating and cooling systems, the Minnaert Building in the Netherlands, by Neutelings Riedijk Architecten, uses very little energy but is constructed with materials not originating from easily renewable sources.

"Ten Shades of Green" addresses a huge field of information with large color photographs, models, diagrams and drawings of each building, but it relies heavily on the written word to explain the ways in which each project successfully qualifies as green. Viewers must work to fully comprehend the significance of each design, but even casual observers will see evidence of how form and function can marry in heroic gestures.

At the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., "The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture and Design" is geared toward home-builders and homeowners and is certainly more accessible to laymen.

Hands-on, full-scale examples of construction methods and materials provide the meat of the exhibit — including a portion of a house, a roof that structurally and environmentally supports plant life, exposed construction of interior and exterior walls, and new finish materials made from bamboo, cork and recycled paper, rubber and glass. Examples of green housing in a suburb, a city, a desert, the tropics, the mountains and waterside are provided via photographs and videos.

Both exhibits successfully argue that green isn't a design trend with an attached style, but rather a set of values that seem inevitably linked to architecture if humans are to live on this earth far into the future. S

"Ten Shades of Green" runs through Sept. 30 at the Virginia Center for Architecture, 2501 Monument Ave. Call 644-3041, or visit www.virginia architecture.org.

"The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture and Design" runs through June 2007 at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., 401 F St. NW. Call (202) 272-2448, or visit www.nbm.org.

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