Page 2 of 2   <      

Blueprints in Green: Home Designs That Earth Can Live With

The walls of Rick Joy's Tucson Mountain House absorb heat during the day and release it when temperatures drop at night. Below, the environmentally friendly Glidehouse has been installed in a gallery at the National Building Museum.
The walls of Rick Joy's Tucson Mountain House absorb heat during the day and release it when temperatures drop at night. Below, the environmentally friendly Glidehouse has been installed in a gallery at the National Building Museum. (By Undine Prohl -- National Building Museum)

Stang and Hawthorne chide the architectural profession for sidestepping environmental design as "a haven for the untalented, where ethics replace aesthetics and get away with it," a quote they attribute to Harvard Design Magazine. The exhibition shows that's not true now, if it ever was. No designer has equaled Wright's famous Bear Run, Pa., house cantilevered over a brook. But Rick Joy's rammed-earth house in Arizona seems as close to nature. William McDonough + Partners used reclaimed wood and stone to blend a residence into a woodland setting outside Charlotte. Little wonder that Joy, McDonough and Holl have won National Design Awards.

Strict legislation has compelled European designers to be especially adventurous. In Germany, Werner Sobek created a homage to the 1951 Farnsworth House designed by modernist master Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in Plano, Ill. The Sobek house has triple-glazed walls topped by solar panels that produce more power than the house consumes. The multistory structure is fully recyclable and probably more comfortable than any Mies might have imagined.

The most radical house in the exhibition is a chartreuse hut atop a warehouse in Rotterdam. It is an experiment in hyper-efficient land use for urban areas. Dutch designers Rien Korteknie and Mechthild Stuhlmacher call it PARASITE, which is short for Prototype for Advanced Ready-made Amphibious Small-scale Individual Temporary Ecological dwelling. On its bleak borrowed terrain, the house could be the last refuge standing after the planet exhausts its resources.

Smaller is undoubtedly greener -- less energy is needed -- but as President Jimmy Carter learned when he asked the nation to turn down thermostats, making do with less is not the American way.

Making green luxurious might be. The Glidehouse offers a gourmet cooktop made from 98 percent recyclable materials and a patio made of permeable tiles to reduce storm water runoff. The question is whether such features can compete for status with double-height entry foyers, spa baths and great rooms, which attract buyers to typical suburban developments.

This exhibition drew the line at suburbia -- for two good reasons. First, the museum is saving neighborhood developments for a third exhibition under the working title of "Green Communities."

Second, the big home-builders aren't ready for a green spotlight. Stang and Hawthorne write optimistically that architects set the pace for home builders, just as the fashions in Paris and Milan influence merchandise at Target. But on Earth Day last month, the National Association of Home Builders announced that fewer than half its members describe themselves as "moderately or heavily" engaged in green building practices.

With Gore's eco-thriller now playing, it's time to ask an inconvenient question: What are they waiting for?

The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture and Design runs through June 3, 2007, at the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free. Call 202-272-2448 or visit http://www.nbm.org/ .


<       2

© 2006 The Washington Post Company