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June 01, 2017, 07:51 AM

Art or science? Green design is both high and low tech

By Michael Morel

Green Design ©CC0 Public Domain

Co Kerry, Ireland (Rep.) - The technological spectrum of green design is wide. Two stories illustrate just how diverse the approach to building environmentally houses has become.

Last week the BBC reported about a remote house in rural Ireland made almost completely from reclaimed and recycled materials. Started almost by accident, the house was designed and built by a whimsical couple from Munich with no background in construction.

Completely off grid and generating zero emissions, the farmhouse is decidedly low tech. The frame is composed of salvaged timber beams reinforced with stone, stacked with straw bales, and covered in lime plaster. Thousands of used wine bottles compose the foundational insulation.

The most advance technology involved are solar panels and a wind turbine. The couple also concedes the house could not have been built without the Internet. That is where they found all their ideas. The entire project took about three years.

They do not have every trapping on modern life. The subterranean "refrigerator" does not reach freezing, there is no running water, and electricity is limited. But together with their vegetable garden and farm animals, their ambitious, DIY attempt at green living is an undeniable success.

Fast forward across the Atlantic and you find a similar project undertaken with a highly scientific approach. Harvard University's HouseZero is a prototype testing ground for cutting edge green design.

Started by Ali Malkawi, professor of architectural technology and founder of the Harvard Center for Green Building and Cities, their vision addresses the worldwide glut of inefficient houses by creating technologies capable of converting existing structures into green ones. By retrofitting old houses, building costs and carbon footprints are drastically reduced. This is different from most professional approaches to green architecture which typically build entirely new strucutures.

Their approach emphasizes energy conservation over energy production, and some of the elements are reminiscent of the reclaimed house in Ireland. HouseZero utilizes reclaimed bricks and locally derived materials like natural clay plaster.

But most of their technologies are far more advanced. HouseZero is full of sensors and the house is capable of adapting itself to the weather. A ground source heat pump helps regulate the temperature in both hotter and colder times of year. It has a green roof and thermal energy storage. Construction is expected to take less than a year.

What do these two stories teach us? The Internet is a profound resource that allows anyone to experiment successfully with green design. The reclaimed house in Ireland is an impressive accomplishment with the power to inspire others. HouseZero uses a highly scientific approach which could one day have global impact. With either approach, what matters most is having the determination to see the project through.

Going off-grid - could you live in a house like this?
Snøhetta will turn this old house at Harvard into ultra energy-efficient building

Story Type:  News

ID: 100487

Date Modified: June 02, 2017, 07:00 AM

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