Standing tall and saving green

If you are not convinced that environment-friendly sustainable architecture is necessary,then maybe tiny water and electricity bills will help persuade you.

April 17, 2008 10:46
Standing tall and saving green

solar house 88 224. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Green building was once regarded as a fringe concept in Israel, but now that Intel is devoting funds to a green structure in Haifa, the idea seems to be taking off. The main challenge for sustainable architects is finding developers who will invest in their projects, since conventional building is much more common, and therefore cheaper. Architect Joseph Cory of the sustainable architecture company Geotectura has been lucky: Haifa developers Yaniv and Yair Reif are funding his latest project, an apartment complex in the city that Cory has named the SunSail. And the developers are doing more than putting their money where their mouth is - one of them intends to live in the building after it's completed. Cory completed his doctorate in architecture at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology and says that his interest in sustainable architecture formed over time. He attributes his earliest inspiration to architect Frederick Kistler, who designed the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and who began to formulate the concept of sustainable design nearly a century ago. Prior to that inspiration, Cory tells Metro, he thought architecture was just about building buildings. "Later on, I understood that if we are not a part of the solution - not making the world better - we are actually helping to make things worse," Cory relates. Cory believes that his mission as an architect is to help make the world better through sustainable applications to architecture. The SunSail project is scheduled to be completed in two or three years (pending approval from the Haifa Municipality) and will consist of 11 apartments. The building is designed with a curved façade almost entirely covered with solar panels, which will provide up to 40 percent of the residents' electricity. A passive ventilation system will allow breezes to flow in during the warmer months, possibly minimizing the need for energy-guzzling air conditioning. While the building technically has space for a twelfth apartment on the ground floor, Cory opted to leave that space open, leading out into a garden behind the building. The idea is that the garden will grow partway into the building, minimizing the building's ecological "footprint." Water, always a major issue in Israel, is another central element of the design. Rainwater collectors on the roof and basement will take advantage of precipitation, while wastewater from baths and sinks will be purified in the building's own water purification system. Cory observes that contrary to a common misconception, sustainable architecture is not entirely concerned with ecology. In building this complex, Cory says, he "tried to deal with many aspects - not just ecological, but also social, technological, and economical, to make this building accessible for people who want to live in it." Quality of life for the building's inhabitants is as high a priority for Cory as ecological soundness. SunSail's chosen site will allow exposure to the sun, providing both warmth in the winter and natural light, the latter of which has proven psychological benefits. But during the summers, the side of the building that is exposed to the sun will be covered with what Cory calls a "vertical garden" - a proliferation of greenery that will cover the windows and provide shade. The leaves on these plants will wither away in the wintertime, so that the sunlight can enter and provide additional heat. The idea of carefully choosing the site for a construction project and considering the future lifestyle of the building's inhabitants is still novel to most builders in Israel, according to Cory. "Usually, builders aren't aware of environment," says Cory. "They just put a building on the site, and then they complain that they have to pay so much to make the house warm or to cool it in summer." In contrast, Cory adds, "Sustainable design is all about thinking in advance in order to save a lot of money later on." One way in which residents of the SunSail can save money is the significant reduction to their electricity and water expenses, since the building will produce some of its own energy and collect rainwater runoff. Healthy living is another focus of sustainable architecture: there will be space for bicycles inside the entrance, encouraging residents to ride their bikes to the Haifa beach. The building materials that are being used, says Cory, "are environmentally friendly, with no risk of [causing] illness." This is not the trend in conventional building. "Many materials that we use for building are very problematic, such as materials that have glue, which is very dangerous sometimes. If you inhale it, you can even get cancer in some cases," says Cory. Some building materials, such as glue and paint, can also lead to allergies if they are made using certain substances. Cory is working on other projects, as well. One of his latest ventures, which he's working on with a friend from the aerospace faculty of the Technion, is the concept of solar balloons - balloons that are coated with photovoltaic cells. Such cells are notorious for taking up space on the ground; Cory's idea is to float them in the air instead, leaving the ground free. One application for such an invention would be to provide energy in places that don't have room for solar cells. Solar balloons adjacent to a power station for electric cars would enable the vehicles to be powered with solar energy, Cory suggests. Buildings would be able to derive much of their electricity from solar energy, he adds, since there would be almost unlimited space for many photovoltaic cells. While Cory is excited about the balloon project, he cautions that it is still in its very early stages of development and that there are still risks involved. "We have to solve the problem of wind, [and see if] the balloon is strong enough, and we have to devise the right shape for the balloons, so they'll be less resistant to changes in the wind." But whatever happens with the solar balloons, SunSail is moving full speed ahead. Each apartment will cost an estimated half million dollars, which seems to contradict the idea that sustainable architecture is targeted at the "average" buyer. But the high price of green apartments is related to the current lack of demand, says Cory. He explains that as the techniques involved in constructing sustainable buildings come into more frequent use, the cost of construction - and therefore apartments - will decrease. "Sustainable design will become cheaper if more people do it," he asserts. "We'll need help from municipalities and from the government… Developers need to understand that this is the future, and it would benefit [everyone] if they start doing it." Cory's work was recently put on exhibition in the ZeZeZe Architecture Gallery in Tel Aviv. The exhibit was intended to increase public awareness of the ideas behind sustainable architecture. The exhibition, says Cory, drew thousands of visitors in the six weeks that it was on display. "We got many good vibes from people," remarks Cory. "Bit by bit, we will be able to share the knowledge and make a difference."

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