According to most green advocates, green buildings must be durable. Alex Wilson memorably summed up the case for durability in an Environmental Building News article titled “Durability: A Key Component of Green Building.”
There are a few problems with the durability thesis, however: some durable buildings aren’t green, and many green buildings aren’t durable. In fact, the more one looks into the issue, the harder it is to find a link between durability and greenness.
What’s the correlation?
One easy way to disprove any generalization is to provide counterexamples. As it turns out, plenty of durable buildings aren’t green, including:
- The Hearst castle in San Simeon;
- Buckingham Palace;
On the other hand, plenty of green buildings aren’t durable:
- Hippie houses made from salvaged materials;
- Yurts or gers;
- Old-time Alaskan log cabins;
- Third-world favela shacks.
One might perceive a trend in these examples: when it comes to greenness, size matters more than durability.
Living lightly on the planet
Most of us are trying to reduce our carbon footprint and our environmental impact, and some of us worry that our American lifestyle is unsustainable. In the back of our minds, however, we hope that a greener future won’t require us to give up our current luxuries. That’s why we rarely look to the Third World for architectural models.
Most traditional shelters are relatively small, use local materials, require very low inputs of energy, and cause little if any environmental damage when the shelter is abandoned. For those of us who came of age during the 1960s, the landmark book documenting indigenous homes was Shelter, the 1973 classic by Lloyd Kahn. As the examples provided in Shelter made clear, to live lightly on the planet, there is no need to build a durable home.