Gallery: Themes, Memes and Dreams in a Decade of Architecture


The blogs are full of “best of the year” lists, but architecture moves more slowly – it takes a long time for ideas to get built, technologies to evolve and for knowledge to spread. Instead, we look at the themes and memes of the past decade of architecture in TreeHugger. From the rise of modern prefab to the growth of green roofs, read on for the most notable trends in sustainable building.

Green Sustainable Housing Gets Real: It’s More Than Just The House

We certainly showed a lot of the good, like Living Homes and the bad, like the horrible BASF near-zero energy house, but in the end we concluded that the only way to build a green house is to do it in a green community. And that community will probably look a lot like Vauban, where there are cars, but they are kept at the edges. Build to Passivhaus standards so that it needs very little energy. Put in good transit so people don’t need to drive.

As Sarah said at Worldchanging, “This development appears to be a model for modern, urban, ecological living — the sort that even a green-shy househunter would want, simply for its style, proximity and livability.

How to Build a Green, Car-free Community: Vauban >
Life Goes On Without Cars in Vauban >
Ecocities of Tomorrow: A Visit to Freiburg >

A Rough Start, But Green Building Gets Gorgeous

The decade started with some awfully dumb LEED buildings. We jumped on the bandwagon with our complaints about The Sin of LEED Green Buildings That Are Laughably Inappropriate like LEED-certified spaceports and parking garages, but were most upset by the HSBC Headquarters outside of Chicago. But toward the end of the decade green buildings started getting good, LEED kept getting revised and getting better, and there were a few green buildings built that will stand the test of time.

Slate on “Decidedly Dupable” LEED >
Greenwash Watch: HSBC Headquarters >
Dumb and Dumber: NAIOP Calls HSBC HQ Green Project of the Year >

China: From Mao to Wow: Symbols of Excess

The focus of architecture moved from North America and Europe to Asia and the middle east, as their economies exploded. But sometimes it all went a bit too far. Alex wrote:

Owing to its sheer size and its owner, China’s TV propaganda maker, the CCTV headquarters is an easy target in discussions about the health of Beijing’s development. But this building is only one of thousands rising across China that turn their backs on good ideas like the hutong in favor of sensational steel and glass. No matter how cool object buildings can be, their relevance to the city at large in China is dubious at best.

In the Ashes of Rem Koolhaas’s TVCC, a Chance for Revision? >

Dubious Dubai: David Fisher’s Rotating Towers

By the end of the decade it all got silly, as architects everywhere dived into the sands of Dubai with crazy proposals, like David Fisher’s “Dynamic Architecture” of rotating towers, all prefabricated and clipped on to a core with no visible means of support and a completely useless wind turbine spinning between the unit. Oh, and elevators to bring your car up to your unit.

It was all a dream.

Construction Starting On Dubious Dubai Twirling Tower? >
Dubious Dubai >
Bye, Bye, Dubious Dubai >
Dubious Dubai: Eco-Bling on the Anara Tower >
Dubious Dubai Hits Pause Button >
Dubai Gets More Dubious >
Dubai Jumps the Shark >

The Magic Box: Shipping Containers and Architecture

There was something strange about the decade’s preoccupation with shipping container architecture. Sure, there are a lot of containers around and they are cheap, but an extra few inches inside would have made a big difference. And insulation, that would help. Some architects used them with flair, like big building blocks to create interesting spaces. Others, like Frietag, created some drama.

Theater Space Built From 28 Shipping Containers >
12 Ways To Use Shipping Containers As Offices, Housing and Art >

Let’s Get Small

The best way to reduce our footprint is to simply use less, to live in smaller spaces that consume less material and energy to build and operate and don’t give us a lot of room to fill with stuff we don’t really need. One of the most elegant and minimalist was the Micro-compact home, designed by Richard Horden of U.K.-based Horden Cherry Architects. It is a modern “machine for living” at 2.6 meters square.

It is part of a tiny house movement where people are pushing the envelope of how small and cheap a space they can live in. The American version would be the more traditional Tumbleweed Tiny Home of Jay Schafer.

Woman happy living in 84 Square Foot Home >
Tiny Homes: The Next Little Thing >
It’s a Small House After All >
After Two Months in the Micro-Compact Home >

Green Roofs Are Changing Architecture

When the decade began, Green roofs were flat, often inaccessible and there to keep the roof cool and provide habitat. This is a good thing, and for years we showed the same picture of the roof of the MEC in Toronto whenever we did a post. Now at the end of the decade, green roofs have transformed architecture, becoming the defining feature of the building, as in the San Francisco Academy of Science by Lorenzo Piano.

A Trip to the California Academy of Sciences (Slideshow) >
Green Roofs Help Fill Buildings: Good for Business As Well as the Environment >
Prefab, Portable Green Roof Installed In Toronto >

Modern Prefab Lives Fast, Dies Young, Leaves Good Looking Corpse

I wrote at the time of the MoMA exhibition on prefab: “This housing downturn is going to be long and painful, and when we come out of it what we build will have to be smaller, greener and denser. We are going to need to rebuild what we have to reduce our buildings’ carbon footprints rather than build more new stuff. We are probably going to need jobs for skilled hands more than we need digital fabrication.

It might well be that modern prefab lived fast, died young and left a good looking corpse.

Home Delivery: Modern Prefab Lives Fast, Dies Young, Leaves Good Looking Corpse >
Home Delivery: Wrapping It Up With The Cellophane House >
Home Delivery: Digitally Fabricated Housing >
System3 House Installed at MoMA Home Delivery Exhibition >
BURST*008: More Prefab at MoMA’s Home Delivery Exhibition >

+ Themes, Memes and Dreams in a Decade of Architecture


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1 Comment

  1. manny January 3, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    I believe good green construction design can create a good sustainable quality of life

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