Recently a student of ours commented on various color combinations for stamped and stained concrete and asked us which colors we used most frequently. Reflecting back on many years of different decorative concrete installations, the color green came to mind. Whether it was just a subtle accent of color hardener or a spritz of green acid stain, it occurred to me how much the color green could add to a project.
In modern-day construction, the word "green" takes on an entirely different meaning. Responsible building, especially with concrete, is no longer considered an "in vogue" fringe fashion but rather one of the most important considerations of sustainable design and construction.
Many of us concrete junkies have used recycled materials such as fly ash, ground slag, crushed glass and metal inlays in our quest to create beautiful works of art without even considering the many benefits of green building practices. We are actually in the design phase on the construction of our own home (out of concrete, of course), and I must admit, it has been and will continue to be a learning experience with green in mind.
We are fortunate to have come in contact with Eric Brock and Frank André of Lord Aeck Sargent Architecture in Atlanta, whose firm specializes in sustainable design. As Eric and Frank put it, normally their firm does not get involved with small residential projects. However, they were so intrigued with our ideas using concrete as the primary medium that they wanted to be a part of this unique project. They certainly brought many important considerations to mind that many times are overlooked or not even considered.
Sustainability starts with choosing a site that will have the least impact on the environment - such as using the natural contours of the land and only removing trees if it is absolutely necessary - and then trying to landscape with native trees, shrubs and plant material.
Other considerations at the conceptual phase of our project included radiant flooring, solar, geothermal and a green roof that captures water runoff and recycles it for everyday use such as watering the landscaped areas.
A main component of our construction is the use of a trombe wall, which utilizes concrete's thermal mass properties to capture heat during the day and then release the stored heat, making for a much more energy-efficient environment.
Responsible building Q&A
With green principles being the "in thing" these days, I figured I would ask the experts at Lord Aeck Sargent Architecture a few basic questions about responsible building practices.
Bob Harris: For readers who are not familiar with the term "sustainability," what exactly does this mean?
Lord Aeck Sargent Architecture: The commonly accepted definition, which came from the Brundtland Commission and was later adopted by AIA (American Institute of Architects), is essentially, "Meeting the need of the current population without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Using the financial equivalent, sustainability means living off of the earth's interest, which can be done in perpetuity, rather than using up the earth's capital.
BH: What are the main reasons one would choose to design and construct with sustainability in mind?
LASA: The first is ethical responsibility. Buildings use a tremendous amount of resources and produce a great amount of waste. The second is fiscal responsibility and risk management. Buildings can be built to be more efficient (less costly to operate), and few expect the cost of utilities to decrease in the near term.
BH: Does building in this fashion increase or decrease the actual fixed cost of construction?
LASA: It depends on how it's done. You can spend more to add green bells and whistles, or you can optimize the design using state-of-the-shelf technologies and products. Proper building orientation has a big impact on performance yet costs no more than poor orientation.