Green Architecture

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Published on: Sep. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

When I was growing up, I enjoyed working in my family's vegetable garden. I helped plant corn, pick beans and dig potatoes, as well as did a fair share of weeding and mulching. Often I held tomato stakes steady for my dad as he pounded them into the ground. "I want to be sure I don't get the stake too close to the plant," he explained to me. He knew, as do all gardeners, that getting the stakes too close damages the roots and hurts the plant.

His garden structure was simple, just a wooden stake driven into the ground, yet it had the potential to damage the garden. Similarly, whenever we build a structure, such as a shed, house, company headquarters, shopping mall or an airport, we are still building in a garden, a really big one-called the planet.

These structures allow us to carry out our planetary business, but many create more problems for us than solutions. Usually we build with cost in mind: the less cash the better. But the money we hand over is pocket change compared to the "big-picture cost" of buildings.

For example, development on "inexpensive" land on the edge of town requires more roads and driving distance and destroys habitat for wildlife. Laying the utility infrastructure to these new developments destroys yet more plant and animal habitat and can cause erosion and groundwater pollution.

Most of our buildings' heating, cooling and ventilation systems rely on non-renewable energy sources. In addition, energy sources derived from nuclear power, natural gas, petroleum and coal produce toxic pollution, from exploration to combustion.

Ever wonder about that new smell of your revamped office? You better sit down in your new chair and exhale. You have just taken gaseous styrene, formaldehyde and various man-made volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into your lungs. These are some of the chemicals in the latex backing of carpeting, adhesives in particle board, acoustical ceiling tiles, most paints, foam furniture padding and other furnishing materials. These compounds likely contribute to "sick building syndrome," "building related illness" and perhaps even some forms of cancer.

Many Missourians are choosing to make work and living spaces healthier for themselves and the environment. Architects and community planners are creating "environmentally appropriate design," or what is sometimes referred to as "green" architecture. They examine how materials are made and carefully select those that are not detrimental to human and environmental health. They also select materials and energy

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