Building for the Future? By Alanna Lynott

Do eco-friendly buildings really make a difference, or are they just a nod to fashion?

Building for the future

A sparkling prism of light, Hearst Tower stands like an artistic instillation on Manhattan’s West 57th Street. It was heralded on completion in 2006 as New York’s first ‘green’ high rise office building and was the first to be awarded a Gold LEED rating by the US Green Building Council. Buildings such as this led the way in environmentally friendly building design, but how much further have we to go before we’re really making a difference?

Over the last decade, offices, hotels and homes all over the world have been increasingly designed to conform to ‘green’ standards and these eco-friendly elements are often touted as selling points to customers keen to evade green guilt.

More and more, these buildings vie to outdo each other and showcase new design features and while the industry is moving in the right direction, many of these green features are not sufficiently thought through or do not go far enough. For example, wind-turbines on buildings such as the Bahrain World Trade Centre are innovative, but if eco-friendly designs aren’t implemented across the board, grand gestures can end up being ineffective.

David Hilton, eco expert for Grand Designs Magazine, believes the most important aspect of any building is the fabric itself, and technologies should only be considered once the outer shell is made to the best possible specification. “Insulation and air tightness are therefore paramount,” he says. A building needs as “much insulation as possible” to retain energy and keep heating costs low, and air tightness needs to be just right, so your building doesn’t leak heat while also providing optimum air circulation for occupants.

He also stresses that, from the start, designers need to fully understand the needs and habits of the building’s occupants, whether an office, hotel or home. Logical thinking is required, for example, “there’s no point letting the boiler come on to reheat the hot water after your evening shower, if you have a solar panel that will do the work in the morning.” And when it comes to building materials and fuel, truly green building designs are ones that take into account abundant local resources.

An intelligent and thoughtful design process in place of (or even along side) the grand gestures that architects want to showcase can make all the difference to a building, and ultimately, hopefully, the world.

David Hilton is an eco building advisor at Build Store as well as an eco expert for Grand Designs Magazine.