“I love living in ‘The Glidehouse’ for so many reasons,” says Michelle Kaufman from a video screen at the front of the exhibition. Kaufman is both the architect and resident of her sustainable home in Northern California, the so-called “Glidehouse.” She continues, listing the environmentally friendly features of her home: the wood sunshades that can be moved to optimize sunlight and airflow, the photovoltaic panels that provide solar energy, and the natural flooring.
“The Glidehouse,” along with 19 other examples of sustainable architecture and design, is a part of “The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture and Design,” an exhibition at the Paul Rudolph Gallery.
Originally organized by the National Building Museum in Washington in 2006 and curated by Donald Albrecht and Reed Haslach, the exhibition is a follow-up to 2004’s “Big and Green: Toward Sustainable Architecture in the 21st Century,” which focused on large-scale sustainable design and also came to Yale.
“Green House” seems to straddle the line between classroom and commercial. Posters printed on natural wooden planks scream pedantic messages espousing a sustainable way of life and serve as a reminder that “going green” is very much in fashion.
“I think the general public and the world in general has had enough time to think about what it means to be sustainable,” Dean Sakamoto, director of exhibitions for the School of Architecture, said. “What this show does is, it raises the bar for design. It lets the world know that quality aesthetics is not a separate issue from green design.”
Even the exhibition itself makes use of green principles, Sakamoto said. All structures are of bamboo wood, the light boxes and illuminated panels are made of recycled plastic, the panels are constructed from sunflower seed or wheat board, and the lighting uses high-efficiency LED bulbs, he said.
The exhibition is divided into four sections. The first demonstrates the “Five Green Principles”: wisely using the land, working with sun, creating high-performance and energy-efficient houses, improving indoor air quality, and wisely using the earth’s material resources. This section is largely instructive, with surprisingly addictive interactive features with light-up buttons and knobs. An informational video uses animated globes to hit home the incongruities in energy consumption in the world. For example, the United States accounts for over 22 percent of the world’s total energy consumption even though its population is less than 5 percent.
The second section, the largest in the exhibition, is devoted to showcasing 20 examples of sustainable design. The buildings are categorized based on location and reveal that sustainable architecture is viable in the tropics, mountainside, suburbs and city, among other locations. The information provided by colored photographs and an explanation of the green features of each building is further brought to life by accompanying scale models.
“Pinecone House” in Biloxi, Miss., was designed by Studio Gang Architects for a neighborhood that was destroyed by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. The design was inspired by the multilayered protective structure of a pinecone and features shutters along the perimeter that can be closed to protect against hurricanes. Jeanne Gang, the principle architect for the firm, was a visiting professor at the School of Architecture in 2005.
“R128” was designed with a different goal in mind. Located in Stuttgart, Germany, the building’s exterior is made entirely of triple-glazed glass panels and, with its sleek and elegant design, is a testament to the exhibition’s motto: “ ‘The Green House’ demonstrates that homes can be both green and stylish.” Other notable homes include the Swart Residence in Melbourne, whose almost shell-like façade contrasts with the 19th-century homes on either side, and the Historic Front Street, a restoration of a series of brick warehouses in New York City.
The next section of the exhibition is a “Materials Resource Room,” which displays several environmentally friendly building materials. Blocks of aerogel insulation, photovalic cells, and ceiling, wall and floor coverings with clever names like “Green with Envy” modular carpet (and less clever names like “recycled fabric wall covering”) are on display and offer real-life alternatives to synthetic building materials.
The final section is the virtual tour of “The Glidehouse,” complete with commentary from the architect. While it may feel vaguely like an infomercial for one of her own designs, Kaufman’s sharing of the benefits of living in a sustainable home assure visitors that green living really is a viable and comfortable option.
But even though the exhibition focuses on newly constructed sustainable designs, Sakamoto said that visitors should not feel that they have to build entirely new homes to have a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.
“The exhibition makes you aware that you don’t have to be in a new building to live sustainably,” he said. “You can green your life by your behavior alone.”
“The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture and Design” will be open until Oct. 16.