Eco Friendly Architecture - How Plants And Concrete Are Co-Existing More Harmoniously To Create New Urban Jungles

Once upon a time in mankind’s early history, having a roof over one's head simply meant owning a safe habitat that solely served the utilitarian purposes of providing shelter from adverse weather and a place to rest for the night. Today the concept of the modern home has evolved way beyond just serving functional needs and has become an intrinsic part of our identity and self-expression. Houses are no longer just arbitrary places of abode, but also serve as places of work and recreation where we can create our own worlds and personalized space that reflects who we are. Michael Jackson’s Neverland ranch had its own theme park, Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion has a swimming pool area with its own grotto and John Travolta’s house has its own private airport. Before the advent of this modern high-tech architecture, however, houses were built according to the natural materials that were available to their location and this made them much, much more sustainable and easier to maintain than some of the complex structures that we see today. In the middle east, the nomadic Bedouin tribes continue to live in Bedouin tents made out of fabric, rope, and poles. In the Arctic, Inuit still live in igloos, while in southern Africa, Rondavel mud huts are still commonplace in rural areas and constructed using locally sourced raw materials. As our global population continues to grow, the need for new buildings also keeps on rising. However, with the concern of climate change now being a serious social issue for everyone to consider, housing construction seems to be taking on a more consciously sustainable approach to design that is looking back to nature for inspiration.

In ancient times houses were only built from natural materials, such as earth, clay, bamboo, and straw, which were, and still are some of the most sustainable building materials. It is no wonder that architects and designers are now exploring some of these materials, after having learned how environmentally taxing the use of manufactured materials can be. Choosing to build green ensures minimal energy is used and results in a direct reduction in carbon emissions because no fossil fuels have to be burned to produce and transport the building materials. Architects wanting to build sustainably are now using natural alternatives like prefabricated bamboo trusses as an alternative to steel reinforcements. Bamboo is a naturally strong material and has been nicknamed as ‘green steel’ because of its durability – in order to prevent natural decay it can now also be treated with borax salt to preserve its strength as opposed to the use of toxic chemicals. Another natural material that is growing in popularity for eco-friendly building is cork – it was used as a form of insulation in boats ages ago and is now making an appearance in the modern home. It is a very sustainable material because there is no loss of natural habitat that results from cork extraction processes – it is actually renewable because when you extract it from the Quercus Suber (cork oak) tree it naturally grows back over time and the tree doesn’t die.

  "Solar power could be a way to lower carbon dioxide emissions and combat global warming ", said Tesla CEO Elon Musk at a presentation.

"Solar power could be a way to lower carbon dioxide emissions and combat global warming", said Tesla CEO Elon Musk at a presentation.

Aside from these natural building materials other well-known traditional approaches to making housing more sustainable include use of solar panels for generating electricity and rainwater harvesting for garden irrigation. Although not totally obsolete, these methods have become a bit dated and are at the cusp of being supplanted by more efficient innovations. Tesla’s new solar shingles are one of the most eco-friendly innovations to emerge in the world of sustainable building materials. They look the same as any other normal roof tiles, but offer so much more, as their main function alongside being a roof is to turn sunlight into electricity. Believe it or not they are actually cheaper than a normal roof of that style and come in a number of color options that can compliment almost any house. The shingles are made of tempered glass and are three times stronger than regular tiles. Tesla is so confident in their durability that they are offering them with a lifetime warranty based on the lifespan of your house. Tesla CEO Elon Musk sees the shingles as part of his vision for running the world on clean sustainable energy. The shingles have proven to be such a game changer that even prior to their release some architectural firms have already become early adopters of the innovation and have started incorporating them into conceptual house designs. Alavi house is a conceptual residential design by Iranian architectural firm BMDesign that achieves sustainability through the use of the shingles by creating what they call a double skin roof whereby the solar panels are installed 30 centimeters above the roof to create a second layer of roofing that can be opened and closed. On cold winter days the second layer will be able to open itself and let the sunshine warm up the first layer and on hot summer days, the second layer will close itself to provide shade for the first layer and absorb sunlight, which can then be converted into clean energy to power the home.

A longer lasting home means lower maintenance costs and less up-keep. They are also a lot healthier for you to live in, as they emit few if any, toxins. Sustainable building using recycled materials means that waste is minimized and this, in turn, helps reduce a homeowner's carbon footprint significantly. Reducing, recycling and reusing is the essence of this conscious approach. Although an eco-friendly building can be more expensive to build, long-term savings will be made by “going green,” rather than sticking with traditional energy.

As the concern for climate change has grown into a major global issue over the past years so has the rise in eco-friendly buildings around the world - from simple designs to extravagant creations which have all been built with the future well-being of the environment in mind.

The forest city is going to be a self-contained neighborhood in China which will be made up of 70+ buildings. There will be over a million trees and plants covering this neighborhood. It is believed that the plant life will absorb 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide and 57 tons of pollutants per year. They will produce 900 tons of oxygen a year, whilst also decreasing the air temperature. The greenery will also provide homes for millions of wildlife. There will be solar panels on the roofs, and geothermal energy for air-conditioning.

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The PricewaterhouseCoopers building is the most environmentally friendly building in London, with 25% of power generated on site. This impressive building was refurbished according to world-class sustainability standards with impressive features including a chiller heat recovery system, so wasted heat warms the building in cooler temperatures. The design also includes low-energy lighting and impressive recycling facilities throughout. Upon its completion, it was certified as the worlds most sustainable building at the time by BREEAM, the world's leading sustainability assessment for infrastructure and buildings.

Bahrain World Trade Center is a boldly designed structure featuring triangular peaks that funnel air into three wind turbines built right into the façade. This striking building draws up to 15% of its electricity from its turbines, boasts a heat recovery system and solar-powered road and amenity lighting.

For those looking for a more affordable build, it is possible to create a home which is modern, aesthetically pleasing, and also energy-efficient, whilst also being done on a budget. Take the chameleon shotgun house in the United States for example. Architect Zui Ng wanted to create a family house, which would be environmentally friendly, as well as economically beneficial. The building has been designed to house one family, or certain parts of the house can be rented out to others. Ng has created the building so that solar orientation and natural ventilation cools the interior naturally, avoiding the overuse of air-conditioning. He made all the interior furniture himself using recovered materials where possible, and utilized each product to its full potential, with some furniture doubling up as two products in one. The balcony location has been thought out carefully, ensuring that it keeps the summer sun out, and allows the winter sun to light the inside. The design allows fresh air in effectively and also contains a tankless hot water heater.

There are even ways in which we can incorporate agriculture into the design of our city homes. This can be done using vegetable gardens in front yards, or large farm installations on rooftops. For the smaller living spaces, window farms are perfect. Vietnamese design firm H&P architects are one of the early experimenters of integrating agriculture into urban architecture – the Terraces House in the city of Ha Tinh was designed with a series of terraces specifically for urban agricultural use. Each of the house's nine terraces have integrated irrigation systems to support the growth of vegetation. The idea is based on the belief that growing your own food brings city folk closer to nature, encourages people to learn how to plant and grow their own food, and also promotes healthy living.