Editorial: August 2011
The glass is always greener
By Patrick Flannery
Green building is easily the top architectural trend today. Some green
building experts are saying glass construction cannot be green
construction. Our industry should give them a strong response.
Green building is easily the top architectural trend today. Some green building experts are saying glass construction cannot be green construction. Our industry should give them a strong response.
Architecture is a lot like art in that it is subject to sweeping changes in styles and design ideas that take on something of a life of their own. Sometimes these are fads that quickly pass and are almost as quickly renovated out of existence.
Other times they are pervasive expressions of the spirit of a particular moment in time. Very rarely, they are true innovations that become part of architectural practice for all time. The long-term fates of all businesses in the construction industry come down to a series of bets on the nature of architectural trends as they emerge. Is it a fad that can safely be ignored? Is it an important trend that might require the development of new products and services? Or is it a revolutionary change demanding the complete overhaul of your business plan?
Right now, the trend toward green building seems to be wavering somewhere between an important, medium-duration trend and a permanent revolution. That is why it is alarming to me when I hear, as I have, fenestration itself attacked as an enemy of green building principles. Looked at from the simplest possible perspective, a wall will always have a higher R-value than a window. Therefore, it should always be preferable to include fewer windows and doors in your design, if green construction is the primary concern. Using this reasoning, curtain wall construction becomes the Great Satan of the green building movement. If this movement is more than just a trend and actually some kind of revolution, glazing contractors have a big, long-term problem.
Luckily, it would appear that the glass industry has truth on its side. Triple-glazing, low-e glass, gas-filled insulating glass, reflective glass, sun shades and solar panels are just some of the ways glass construction projects can be made energy-competitive. Is this kind of construction as cost-effective as simply building with fewer windows and doors?
Probably not. But those who are prepared to pay for the look they want need not get the message that they are inevitably being less green by specifying generous amounts of fenestration. It is revealing that many of the top examples of green building projects feature huge, beautiful windows and skylights to let in as much daylight as possible and reduce dependency on artificial lighting.
Let’s not let the idea that glass construction is “less green” take on a life of its own and define the trend for future generations. I’d love to hear your examples of how glass and fenestration was used to make a particular project more energy efficient and less damaging to the environment. I bet your customers would, too.