Green Home Building and Sustainable Architecture

Sustainable architecture is an exciting and important field, with many people reviving traditional methods of building and others creating innovations to established practices. Kelly Hart, webmaster of the popular website, posts text and photos featuring what he discovers from around the world.

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Name: Kelly Hart
Location: Crestone, Colorado, United States

Kelly Hart has been involved with green building concepts for much of his life. He has also worked in various fields of communication media, including still photography, cinematography, animation, video production and now website development. Kelly has lived in an earthbag/papercrete home that he built (but is now mostly living in Mexico) and consults about sustainable building design.

April 25, 2008

Urban Green Building

I recently received two emailed questions about the seeming lack of attention to green building in urban settings:

"I happened to notice that very little, if not at all, mention of urban dwellings and how small urban homes are practically the greenest you can get when you factor in transportation. Green homes spread out in the country, unless you're living off the earth and have no use for a car, may counteract your carbon footprint savings if you have to drive on a continuous basis. A vast majority of Americans live in a metropolitan area, it would be nice if your information can include an aspect to the benefits of small homes in urban dwellings."

"I am curious about building an earth covered or underground home in the future. Can these houses be built on a small lot within a city? I think being close to your neighbors etc., is one way to help achieve sustainable living, however, the green homes I have seen always appear to be on a large parcel of land."

I think these folks are absolutely right about this. It is unfortunate that most of the natural building movement has been more of a rural activity...but there is no reason why it has to be. Virtually all of the principles of sustainable architecture that I outline at would equally apply in an urban setting.

In districts where housing goes above 2 or 3 stories, it is difficult to use some of the more natural techniques. One problem is that many of these methods of building result in rather thick walls, especially when the walls must go quite high, so that interior space is compromised by this. This is where some hybrid concepts might be useful, such as building with a steel framework to allow multiple stories, and then fill in the walls with less industrial materials, such as strawbales, cordwood, or earthbags.

As for going underground in a city, it certainly can be done. It would be a great way to create dwelling space and reserve most of the land above for gardening or parks, creating much needed green space in the city.

Also much of the movement towards "sharing facilities," such as co-housing, can be done in cities. This is another way to create both denser housing and reserve open space for parks and gardening.

I think that all proponents of green architecture need to put more creative thought into urban design!


Anonymous Peter Green said...


I agree: urban living can be one of the greenest things you can do. For years we have lived in a house on a 6,000 square foot lot built in 1929, upgrading and remodeling it with insulation, and an energy efficient addition.

Because of the high density of our location, in an older, inner suburb, we can conveniently walk to to downtown districts, a corner drugstore and a university. We use an electric lawnmower (we could use a manual one if a good one were available) on our tiny patches of green, and our setting is in an urban forest, with trees, birds and plenty of other fauna.

The energy use involved in building a new, energy efficient house on a vacant lot--which would almost have to be a distant auto ride away--boggles the mind in comparison. I intend to stay in this discussion on my site on my blog, where I describe the novel I'm writing, "Crimes against Nature," featuring an architect-sleuth.

Peter, Architect and Planner

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Hannah Zimmerman said...

I see that you guys are interested/involved in the green building movement.The Pitch newspaper out of Kansas City recently did a story on a KC architect who helped found the green building movement. Check it out and tell us what you think at

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah check out what Global Green is doing in New Orleans at:

It is so inspiring to see what can be done to an apartment building and to schools. Global Green is amazing!

5:10 PM  

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