There are at least two recognizable camps in the green building community. The older camp includes hippies, owner/builders, and those in the natural building movement. These builders prefer to scrounge materials from the woods or demolition sites rather than purchase new materials from a lumberyard. Their homes might be made of adobe, logs, or straw bales.
On the other side of the aisle is the newer camp of builders who emphasize energy efficiency and high performance. This group includes fans of triple-glazed windows and heat-recovery ventilators, as well as builders who brag about their blower-door results. The Passivhaus adherents can be found on this side of the aisle.
If you draw a Venn diagram of these two groups, you may find a few builders in the small zone where the circles overlap. But most green builders are outside of the overlap, falling clearly into one of the two large circles described above.
The natural builders usually work in rural areas, while the high-performance builders often work in urban areas or suburbs. These two groups have contrasting attitudes toward building codes and regulations. While natural builders usually decry the stupidity of building codes, calling them roadblocks to creativity, the energy-efficiency group often promotes stricter building codes, noting that “we need to raise the bar.”
In short, these two green building groups appear polarized. Perhaps the aims of the two groups are irreconcilable, and this polarization is inevitable. But even if the groups’ aims can’t be reconciled, it’s important for green builders to listen to each other.
In 1994, Steward Brand, best known as the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, wrote an influential book, How Buildings Learn. Brand observed that all buildings are destined to be modified — a fact that many architects forget — and that many…