Green architecture has been a significant branch of the environmental movement since it began. It is widely recognized that the construction and operation of buildings is a major contributor to energy consumption and emissions, and that the sprawl of cities has caused widespread habitat loss. More people are becoming aware that buildings are connected to many health problems that are becoming common.

Obviously, we need buildings. They are the backbone of our lives and our society. Green architecture is what happens when you start asking the question:

“How do we make buildings that have less negative impact on our environment?”
Or even better:
‘Is it possible to build our buildings and cities in a way that we live in symbiosis with our environment?”

At Vera Iconica, our focus is on designing wellness architecture. This is a version of Green architecture that creates spaces that can improve the health and wellbeing of it’s inhabitants. From a ‘green’ perspective, this holistic approach encourages the use of non-toxic materials and old-world techniques that have positive impact on people and communities, and less impact on the surrounding environment.

Characteristics of Green Architecture

There are several features designers of Green Architecture use to help their designs reduce environmental impact. These characteristics include:

  1. Efficiency and Performance
    • Utilization high-performance building assemblies, as dictated by the local climate. This means walls, roofs and floors that balance insulation and thermal mass, depending on location, and that seal, handle water and moisture and avoid thermal bridging.
    • Design for appropriate use of natural light and ventilation. Enhancing or mitigating solar gains per climate and season. Using outdoor air for cooling when possible.
    • Use of energy-efficient appliances and mechanical systems.
  2. Materials
    • Preference for natural, unadulterated materials such as wood, and stone for walls; metal, stone or tile for roofs; mineral wool, wood fiber or wool for insulation; and so on.
    • Mechanical fasteners over adhesives when possible
    • Selection of locally sourced materials when possible. This has the benefit of building with materials that have been tested and proven for performance over a long timeframe.
  3. Water Conservation and Treatment
    • Implementation of rainwater harvesting systems
    • Greywater recycling for non-potable uses
    • Advanced water filtration to remove chemicals
    • Treatment alternatives for waste water.
  4. Healthy Indoor Environment
    • Use of non-toxic, low-emission materials, finishes and adhesives. Includes careful selection furnishings.
    • Design for indoor air quality. In addition to selecting non-offgassing materials and finishes, this also prioritizes ventilation and air exchange.
    • Integration of nature and natural elements. (see our article on Biophilic Design)
    • Air and Water filtration systems.
  5. Waste Reduction
    • Construction waste management and recycling
    • Design for disassembly and reuse of building components
    • Implementation of waste-to-energy systems
  6. Durability and Timelessness
    • Designing with time tested materials, methods and details. Learn from buildings that have withstood centuries.
    • Low-tech solutions over technology that will quickly become obsolete.
    • Design and details that strive for timeless beauty over short-lived trends that will want to be replaced when trends shift.

Benefits of Green Architecture

Green architecture offers numerous benefits beyond environmental sustainability, positively impacting economic, social, and health aspects. These benefits include:

  1. Environmental Benefits
    • Protect Natural Habitat: Design buildings and towns to use space effectively, rather than sprawling over the landscape. This has the benefit of creating places that are nicer to live in.
    • Conservation of Resources: Efficient use of water, energy, and materials reduces the strain on natural resources.
    • Minimizing Waste and Pollutants: Using better materials means not only is the space inside the building healthier, but it will also send fewer toxins into the surrounding environment. Preserving clean air and water.
  2. Economic Benefits
    • Energy Savings: A high-performance building uses less energy, and saves operating costs.
    • Increased Property Value: A well designed Green building can have higher market value.
    • Long-Term Durability: Timeless materials and construction methods enhance the lifespan and resilience of buildings, reducing long-term costs, leaving value that passes on to the next generations.
    • Improved Work Environments: Applying these principles to offices and workspaces has been shown to increase productivity and reduce sick leave.
  3. Health Benefits
    • Improved Indoor Air Quality: Using non-toxic materials and enhanced ventilation systems creates healthier living and working environments.
    • Enhanced Comfort: Natural lighting, temperature control, and acoustic design enhance occupant comfort and well-being.
    • Reduction in Health Issues: Buildings designed around wellness architecture principles are associated with fewer respiratory and allergy problems due to better air quality and fewer pollutants.
  4. Social Benefits
    • Community Well-Being: When applied at the neighborhood scale, good design will create a stronger community, encourage walking over driving, promoting a healthy, social, active lifestyle. It will support small business, lower crime, and encourage community engagement.
    • Educational Opportunities: Learning from historic examples and building architecture as a beacon to inspire future design.
    • Job Creation: When designed to focus on quality and timelessness, Green Architecture encourages craftsmanship, creating and preserving valuable skills and creating meaningful, profitable work.

Benefits of Green Architecture

What is the importance of green buildings?

Current day Green Architecture can be best understood in comparison to it’s alternative. Conventional architecture and construction is creating a product that is not ideal for human or environmental wellbeing. Sick Building Syndrome caused by offgassing chemicals, dust and allergens, and mold caused by trapped moisture from improper construction techniques, is far too common. Cities are designed so that people are forced to get around in their car, rather than getting the benefits of walking. This increases pollution and energy consumption. People live in increased isolation and communities are less robust.

Green architecture and design are important because they address these concerns.
It’s important to not that this was not always the norm. Historically many aspects of architecture and urban design where inherently ‘Green,’ in ways we are striving to bring back.

The Importance of Green Buildings

Roots of Green Architecture concept

In his book: ‘The Original Green’, architect Steve Mouzon builds the argument that Green Architecture was once the norm. It was just how things were done.

Builders didn’t have the benefit of mechanical systems to make the space comfortable. There was no way to ‘cheat’. Buildings had to work with environmental conditions and maximize the resources available. Techniques like passive solar heating, natural ventilation, and thermal mass were standard practices to maximize comfort while minimizing resource use.

Buildings were built from wood, stone, clay, mud and straw that was for the most part locally available. They used details to withstand the elements that were copied from the details of buildings that had withstood the elements for decades and centuries prior. They were loved and maintained to be passed on to the next generation.

There were no chemical adhesives to offgas. Natural plasters and mineral paints, and solid wall assemblies didn’t encourage mold in the same way as gypsum board.

Buildings were healthier and communities were tight.

While things may not have been perfect (lead was likely used in roofing materials and downspouts, wood fireplaces may not have ventilated well, waste might not have been effectively treated or removed, compared with today’s systems) there are many things to learn and emulate when we study historic architecture through this lens.

In the modern era, the roots of green architecture can be traced back to the environmental movements of the 1960s and 1970s. This period saw a growing awareness of the environmental impacts of industrialization and urbanization. Influential works like Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” highlighted the need for ecological conservation and inspired the development of sustainable practices in various fields, including architecture. Architects and designers began to explore ways to reduce energy consumption and make buildings that polluted less.
The oil crisis of the 1970s further underscored the need for energy-efficient buildings, leading to advancements in green building technologies and design principles. Organizations such as the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the establishment of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in the 1990s played pivotal roles in formalizing and promoting green architecture. The introduction of certification programs like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) provided standards and benchmarks for sustainable building practices, further embedding green architecture into mainstream construction and design.
Green architecture continues to evolve today, driven (for better or worse) by technological advancements and a growing global awareness. Its roots remain firmly planted in the timeless principles of environmental stewardship and the pursuit of harmony between the built and natural environments.

What is LEED?

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a globally recognized certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). It provides a framework for designing, constructing, and operating high-performance green buildings. LEED certification aims to promote sustainability in the built environment by encouraging using energy-efficient, water-saving, and environmentally friendly practices and materials.
The LEED system evaluates buildings based on several key criteria, including:

  • Sustainable Sites: Encourages the selection of environmentally responsible sites and the reduction of environmental impact during construction.
  • Water Efficiency: Promotes water conservation through efficient plumbing fixtures, irrigation systems, and rainwater management.
  • Energy and Atmosphere: This area focuses on improving energy performance, using renewable energy sources, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Materials and Resources: Encourages sustainable building materials, waste reduction, and recycling.
  • Indoor Environmental Quality: Enhances indoor air quality, natural lighting, and occupant comfort through non-toxic materials and proper ventilation.

Buildings seeking LEED certification can achieve different levels—Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum—based on the number of points earned across these categories. The higher the number of points, the higher the certification level. LEED certification validates a building’s commitment to sustainability and provides numerous benefits, including reduced operating costs, increased property value, and a healthier environment for occupants.
LEED is a widely adopted standard for green building practices that has largely driven the industry towards environmentally responsible construction and design.
In our practice, which is primarily focused on custom residential architecture, it is rare that a project pursues a LEED certification. It is more commonly applied to commercial and civic buildings. That being said, many clients choose to apply the principles of LEED, bringing benefits greater than the recognition. We also apply the principles of Building Biology as a core element of our design process.

What is Building Biology?

Originally founded in Germany, the Institute for Bau Biologie developed a field of study focused on the health and wellness of our built environments. Brought to North America in the 1980s, the Institute has trained hundreds of practitioners, architects, designers and consultants that study all aspects of building construction and performance with a deliberate study of historic wisdom, and an ongoing quest to stay on the cutting edge of new technology. It’s range includes wall and roof assemblies, materials and finishes, mold prevention, mechanical systems, and also takes into account environmental factors including local climate, electromagnetic fields, radiation, earth energy and magnetism, and more.

It is not a certification process, but a set of principles that can be applied to the unique needs of each client and building site. We consider it to be the gold-standard for wellness architecture and design.

As a broad and evolving discipline, Green Architecture has many groups that are attempting to further the cause by creating their own certifications or set of principles. These include the International Living Future Institute (Living Building Challenge), Passiv Haus, WELL, Building Science, Green Guard, and more. All of these are doing great work to bring awareness and solutions for a future where Green Architecture again becomes the norm. We learn from and are influenced by all of these in our design process.