Life Without Books – The Green House

From the mountains of Stuttgart to the roofs of the Netherlands to the streets of Manhattan, critics Alanna Stang and Christopher Hawthorne present an incredible overview of contemporary sustainable housing in their new book The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture. In the forward, they declare their mission : to present houses that make “green” architecture utterlery unremarkable. That is to say, houses that have green systems integrated into their design without letting sustainability dominate their aesthetic.

An informative introduction provides a brief history of Green design, from its origins in historic vernacular to the current status of the movement, and gives enough background for the average reader to appreciate the complexity of the presented works. Inspired by the surprising variety of incredible designs they discovered, the curators thoughtfully divided the projects into categories based on their environments – City, Suburb, Mountainside, Waterside, Desert, Tropics, and the tragically under-represented, Anywhere. Full-page color photos and drawings show off the work while written descriptions explain their green features and how the architect balances environmental and aesthetic concerns. The photos and descriptions are well crafted and informative, but the drawings leave much to be desired. Details of the more technical sustainable elements are woefully absent, while the elevations and sections are mostly too small and basic to be informative.

The book opens with its most strikingly “green” work, P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. PROJECT, designed by Dutch architects Kortknie Stuhlmacher Architecten.

A chartreuse form attached to the roof of a Rotterdam warehouse, the Parasite project is a prototype for a new form of urban housing – urban infill designed to explore the relationship between sustainability and prefabrication. So just how is this project sustainable? The prefabricated panels, both load-bearing and insulating, are manufactured from waste wood and can be assembled in only four days. It is also designed to take advatage of the existing building’s water and heating systems. Many of the other works in the Green House include technologically advanced environmental systems, but with the P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. PROJECT we are presented with a green house that is both simple and thoughtfully constructed.

Including works by Steven Holl, Shigeru Ban, Rick Joy Cesar Pelli, and a host of lesser known yet equally talented architects, The Green Housetakes us on a tour of over thirty residences in fifteen countries. Part primer on sustainability, part reference book, and part sexy monograph, it is a gorgeous collection that shows just how easy and affordable it can be to think green.

The National Building Museum is currently organzing the accompanying exhibit,The Green House, scheduled to open in Spring of 2006