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All "green" ain't so green
by Katy Purviance on 05/30/08 @ 03:25:38 pm
Categories: Articles | 645 words | 2022 views

I just read this article by Daniel Barbarisi in the Providence Journal called, “City promotes green design for housing.”

PROVIDENCE — The two-story Victorian house on the design board looks spare and simple, and it is. It’s designed to be easily replicated and produced by developers all over Providence.

Yet, as Mayor David N. Cicilline explained, in some ways it’s among the most modern buildings around — because it is built “green,” using environmentally friendly, low-cost, sustainable building procedures and materials.

Things that give me the willies already only two paragraphs in:

1. The houses can be easily replicated and produced all over Providence. Like how suburban tract homes are mindlessly repeated all over?

2. The mayor thinks these are the most modern buildings around. What’s interesting here is the “greenest” technologies are the oldest, i.e., before people had the so-called luxury of depending on wasteful systems and foreign oil.

3. “Green” is in quotes. My boyfriend is always wondering how many supposedly “green” ideas are really just greenwashing.

But let’s keep reading…

“This is a personal goal of mine, to increase the mainstream usage of green architecture,” said West, who works with Kite Architects in Providence.

Her design uses cellulose insulation made from recycled newspapers, natural ventilation instead of air conditioning and low-flow water fixtures to reduce consumption, among other green touches. It features a two-story entry tower, intended to improve air circulation and to “allow individual expression and an opportunity for exploration and learning, whether it is connecting to nature with star-gazing or plantings or a platform for wind-catching turbines.”

Whoa whoa whoa! She said “natural ventilation!” And – oh my goodness – she said “platform for wind-catching turbines!”

NOW I’m interested!

An incentive system should encourage developers to use the designs. The numerous nonprofit community development corporations that rely partially on city funding could get extra “points” in their funding formulas for using these designs.

So I have this idea for a Very Short Film in which an architecture firm is fretting over “points.” Absurdity ensues. You know.

The “point” system cracks me up (and deeply worries me). You can collect points by making purchases with your credit card, or by flying often, or by owning a timeshare, or collecting bar codes. This point system we’re so in love with always strikes me as a little juvenile and ludicrous.

(Can I talk about LEED for two seconds?) There are many ways to make a building green or sustainable or whatever buzzword you want to use…and sometimes these ideas don’t really fit into a specific pre-determined pre-sanctioned LEED category. And then there are products and technologies that meet criteria for LEED points but are not very green at all.

One thing I did at my internship was categorize product information according to the respective LEED classifications. There was this rooftop insulating material. That’s what it does. It insulated your roof so you save on energy costs. Sounds good, right? One LEED point, coming right up.


The cover of the product information package shows a couple of guys (?) applying the spray-on insulative coating… in full-body protective gear with goggles and respirators.


So if a person has to dress like it’s nuclear meltdown time, can I hazard a guess that maybe…MAYBE the insulation is made of materials not conducive to health and well-being? And maybe…MAYBE over time, those same dangerous chemicals will work their way through the building to the part where the people live? You know, the people who do not, as a rule, wear full-body protective gear with goggles and respirators on a daily basis?

Do you see what I’m saying?

The point system is fine if you’re lazy. If you’re not too concerned with holistic solutions or overarching extracurricular long-term results.

I’m just saying.

Maybe some hard-core thinking would be better than another point system.

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