Tag Archives: green

Kandalama Hotel

Kandalama Hotel in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka by Geoffrey Bawa, 1991.

Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa passed away last Tuesday, the 27th of May, at the age of 83. Paralyzed and unable to speak after a stroke in 1998, Bawa remained active with his design practice until his final days. Spanning five decades, his career was marked by a sensitive approach to the environment and a unique balance between the modern and the vernacular.

Recipient of the Chairman's Award from the Aga Kahn Award for Architecture (the highest achievement from a group honoring architecture in countries with a strong Muslim presence), Bawa was widely recognized in his home country, as well as surrounding countries, but very little in the western hemisphere. A recent monograph, published by Thames & Hudson, finally brought some belated attention to the architect's buildings, which consist mainly of houses and hotels. The Kandalama Hotel is a fine example of the latter, made possible via Sri Lanka's popularity as a tourist destination, starting in the 1960's.

Completed in 1991, the Kandalama Hotel is indicative of Bawa's environmental sensitivity and contemporary/traditional balance, mentioned earlier. Confronted with a site at the foot of King Kaspaya's rock citadel, the architect persuaded the client to choose an alternative site, approximately 15km south on rocky terrain. The striking natural features proved a design challenge that the architect addressed by minimizing the impact of construction on the site. No earth-moving machines were used, and the sizable rock formations were kept, becoming an important element in the final design (click for section).

Other important elements of the design include its siting along the existing ridges (click for plan), exterior walkways along the cliff face of the hotel wings, and wood trellises with climbing vegetation. These elements help to blend the building into the site, create a relationship to its surroundings through exterior space, and blur the distinction between the natural and man-made, respectively. The masterful siting, spatial ambiguity, and facade articulation combine to create a one-of-a-kind experience for the traveler that is not common in an age of chain hotels and contextual ignorance.

The loss of Geoffrey Bawa is not the loss of his ideas. Expressed through his many buildings, these ideas embrace both the natural and the man-made through thoughtful intervention into the beautiful landscape of his native country. His was an architecture that embraced the modern, especially through space, but was grounded in the traditions of Sri Lanka, creating a unique synthesis that future architects can learn from.

Colorado Court

Colorado Court in Santa Monica, California by Pugh + Scarpa, 2001.

Extensively published since its completion in 2001, the Colorado Court Apartments in Santa Monica, California by hometown architect Pugh + Scarpa, embody that state's commitment to environmental responsibility. At the same time, the project goes beyond the standards set by Califronia to make the building and its residents completely independent in terms of energy consumption.

In the architect's words the building uses many passive, environmental strategies, including: "locating and orienting the building to control solar cooling loads and exposure to prevailing winds; shaping the building to induce buoyancy for natural ventilation; designing windows to maximize daylighting; shading south facing windows and minimizing west-facing glazing; designing windows to maximize natural ventilation; shaping and planning the interior to enhance daylight and natural air flow distribution."

Beyond the building's form and orientation, the mechanical technologies include systems to a natural gas powered turbine/heat recovery system for power and hot water and a solar panel system integrated into the facade for peak electricity. The latter gives the building its most unique external aspect, the rectangular blue solar panels hung from the building in a considered manner. Typically solar panels are hidden on a building's roof, deemed an eyesore, but at Colorado Court they are raised to the status of beauty.

The 44 residents of the Colorado Court Apartments live in a building that is many things: a handsome addition to Santa Monica, a refreshing environment with courtyards and exterior walks, totally independent, and most importantly something that gives back to the city in beyond its presence. Since the building produces excess power beyond its consumption it shares that production with the grid of Santa Monica, helping the city to produce "green energy" and hopefully paving the way for similar developments in the future.

[Google Earth link]


Sesseljuhús in Sólheimar, Iceland by ASK Architect, 2002.

The following text and images are by ASK Architect for their design of Sesseljuhús in Sólheimar, Iceland.

Sesseljuhús is a house built at Sólheimar in Iceland in commemoration of Sesselja Hreindís Sigmundsdóttir. The building will be taken into use on July the 5th 2002, on what would have been Sesselja's 100th birthday. Sesselja was the founder of Sólheimar, she established a children's home and organic farm there in 1930. Now, over 70 years later, Sólheimar is a thriving eco-village with approximately 100 inhabitants.

Over the last 15 years various environmentally friendly buildings have been constructed at Sólheimar. Sesseljuhús is by far the largest and most challenging project undertaken so far. The house will function as an "eco-center" providing a venue for conferences, meetings and educational courses regarding the environment. The house will operate in close cooperation with other ecological entities currently managed at Sólheimar, entities that include a forestry program, an organic nursery and gardening center, a recycling program, a farm and an organic restaurant.

The building is 840 square meters and consists of four interconnected parts: an auditorium for conferences and meetings; a lounge-style central atrium supplied with equipment that shows the energy use inside the building; an educational area consisting of a library, a computer center and an office in addition to class- or meeting rooms; showroom for displays and poster board presentations.

During its design, great care was taken to choose only environmentally friendly building materials. The building's structure consists of a timber frame construction, topped with a sod roof. The insulation of the walls and floors is made of natural sheep's wool while the roof is insulated with paper. The outdoor cladding is made from driftwood originating in Siberia, carried to Iceland by the ocean's currents. Interior surfaces consist of plywood, Icelandic lark, natural graystone, linoleum and recycled materials.

The building's air-ventilation system is natural. Fresh air is channeled under the building by a flow induced by temperature differences between the outside environs and the inside of the building, entering through ducts in the floor and leaving the building through vents on the roof.

All energy used in the building originates from environmentally sustainable sources. Solar and hydro power supply the building with electricity in addition to a unique generator that produces electricity from the temperature difference existing between hot and cold water. The house is heated using geothermal hot water from Sólheimar's own borehole. Future plans include the installation of a windmill.

Theehuis Pavilion

Theehuis Pavilion

Theehuis Pavilion in Arnhem, Netherlands by Bjarne Mastenbroek, 2002.

Thanks to Robert Gabriël, architecture student at TU Delft, for the accompanying images (click to enlarge) and background information on the Theehuis Pavilion.

Located in National Park Veluwezoom, the Theehuis Pavilion is a replacement for the previous Theehuis after it was destroyed by fire. The Pavilion was designed by Amsterdam's Bjarne Mastenbroek (then architect with de Architectengroep), after winning a competition with his design. Situated approximately 10 km north of Arnhem, the Pavilion provides visitors to the park a place to rest and eat or drink, offering splendid views of the IJssel and Rijn valleys.

Reminiscent of recent buildings by Rem Koolhaas, MVRDV and other Dutch architects, the Theehuis Pavilion attempts to meld into the landscape through the architectural and structural treatment of floors and walls. Floors appear to float in flowing, contiguous spaces. Walls disappear as the structure, tree trunks, resemble the surroundings. A glass skin lends an ambiguity between inside and outside. Here architecture and structure have a symbiotic relationship, to achieve a balance between the Pavilion and its surroundings.

Essentially the Pavilion consists of a kitchen at ground level with public spaces sloping and spiraling up to a cantilevered viewing area. A wood floor, made with cuts perpendicular to the trunk and embedded in epoxy(see image following page), marks the dining area. Here the building opens itself up to views on all sides and provides access to the grass-covered rooftop, an indication that the building's landscape-oriented design embraces sustainability as well.


Bjarne Mastenbroek (1964) studied in Delft; after that he worked as an architect at Mecanoo, in Delft, and for Enric Miralles in Barcelona. Together with Dick van Gameren he started in a new office in 1991, joining 'De Architecten groep' in 1993. They were winners of the Europan 2 competition. In 2002 Bjarne Mastenbroek started his own office.

Datai Hotel

Datai Hotel

Datai Hotel in Pulau Langkawi, Malaysia by Kerry Hill Architects, 1993.

Recipient of an Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2001, the Datai Hotel by Australia's Kerry Hill Architects was completed in 1993 in Pulau Langkawi, Malaysia. The design was recognized for its sensitive approach to its surrounding, in particular the coast, the topography and the indigenous vegetation of the site. Although a tourist development the five-star hotel does not dominate the landscape or occupy valuable beachfront property, instead it finds a balance with its surroundings away from the coast.

Situated on a ridge high above the waterfront the site includes untouched rainforest, swamps, streams and wildlife, with spectacular views of the ocean from the hotel. Although the program contains 84 hotel rooms, 40 villas, a swimming pool and spa, restaurants, and a beach house, the first is split among four "blocks" and the latter uses are spread around the site in pavilions. This maneuver, coupled with vernacular construction, including raising the buildings on stilts and deep overhangs, gives the complex a remarkable site sensitivity.

The architect reduced the need for clearing trees in the hotel and pavilion locations, while also using trained elephants instead of bulldozers to fell trees where necessary, since the animals cause less damage than manmade machines. Additionally, building materials add to the site sensitivity, with exposed wood allowed to age naturally with vegetation creeping up the bases of the structures.

Each of the architect's approaches to the site - location, construction and materials - gives the hotel an attachment to its surroundings that is enhanced by the exterior walkways and program spaces. In the words of the Aga Kahn Development Network, "The popularity of the hotel with its clients is a testament to the responsible and sensitive approach adopted by the architect, who has provided a sense of luxury and sophistication while respecting a remote natural environment."

Biosphere and Flower Pavilion

Biosphere and Flower Pavilion

Biosphere and Flower Pavilion in Postdam, Germany by Barkow and Leibinger, 2001.

Built as a Flower Pavilion and centerpiece of the National Horticulture Show (BUGA) in Potsdam, Germany by Berlin-based Barkow and Leibinger, this building has an intended lifespan of at least 20 years, as a Biosphere and a major part the site's transformation into a new residential district of nearly 20,000. Partners Frank Barkow and Regine Leibinger looked at the history of the site as a conceptual basis for the competition-winning design. While used by both the Prussian and Nazi armies, it was the postwar creation of earthen berms to enclose Russian barracks that provided the dramatic direction of the project.

The architects veered away from creating a glass, greenhouse-like object on flat ground, typical of previous European structures influenced by the 19th century Crystal Palace. Instead the design merges with the existing berms while burying itself into the ground, thereby reducing the height of the building and creating fill for additional berms. This simple maneuver defines the interior spaces, provides surfaces for planting, and allows the architects to frame views and bring in daylight in interesting ways through the opening of gaps in the sloping earth.

Inside the pavilion is a single 200m (985 ft) long space, shaped by the berms and enclosed by curtain walls and a long span, concrete roof, punctuated by skylights. The berms, clad with plants and flowers on the south faces and stone and wood on the north faces, exist somewhere between the natural and the man-made. They seem to represent natural geological conditions, such that water moving through the building formed the walls of the space. Moving along the wood bridge, one looks down at the water basin, saturated with vegetation, which furthers this representation.

As the Flower Pavilion is taken over by the Cinemax movie theater company, the structure will become the Cinemax Biosphere, a for-profit commercial attraction with theaters and gardens. Their 20 year lease will not only preserve the building and its contents but also its message of architecture built with the landscape, not on the landscape (the ecological sensitivity of the building, though too extensive to describe in detail is also worth a mention).

[Google Earth link]

Lewis Center for Environmental Studies

Lewis Center for Environmental Studies

Lewis Center for Environmental Studies in Oberlin, Ohio by William McDonough + Partners, 2001.

The following text and images are by William McDonough + Partners for their design of the Lewis Center For Environmental Studies at Oberlin College in Ohio.

The Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies represents a collaboration of ideas and interests. The client, Dr. David Orr, has written on what he calls “architecture as pedagogy” - the idea that the buildings we learn in teach us as powerfully as the content of our classes. In response, the Lewis Center was designed throughout to embody the curriculum of ecological mindfulness central to the Environmental Studies Program. The result is a remarkable synthesis of building and landscape, state-of-the-art sustainable materials and innovative design strategies. The Lewis Center manifests ecological stewardship and is widely acknowledged as both a prototype and a pioneer.

The Lewis Center is intended to be both “restorative” and “regenerative,” addressing how architectural design may reverse the environmental stresses brought on by the industrial revolution. To this end, the design team considered how the building and landscape could be fecund - like a tree - accruing solar income to the benefit of living systems, absorbing water quickly and releasing it slowly in a healthy state, and creating habitat for living things.

One of the project’s primary goals was to become a net energy exporter, generating more power than would use to operate on an annual basis, while maintaining acceptable comfort levels and a healthy interior environment. The building relies on current solar income and the natural energy flows created by the sun. The roof is covered with 3,700 square feet of photovoltaic panels, which are expected to generate more than 75,000 kilowatt hours of energy annually. The design team employed advanced energy modeling techniques to evaluate design strategies. When the building is fully commissioned, its energy requirements are expected to be nearly 80 percent lower than those of standard academic buildings in the area.

Advanced and "sustainable" design features include geothermal wells for heating and cooling, passive solar design, daylighting and fresh air delivery throughout, a "living machine" natural waste water treatment facility on-site, a created wetland for natural storm water management, and a landscape that provides social spaces, instructional cultivation, and habitat restoration.

ACROS Building

ACROS Building

ACROS Building in Fukuoka, Japan by Emilio Ambasz & Associates, 1995.

Attempting to achieve a balance between environmental and artistic aims, International Hall (aka ACROS Building) in Fukuoka Japan exhibits Emilio Ambasz & Associates' continued search for a widely accepted "green architecture". Sited on the last piece of green space in the city center, Ambasz's approach of terracing the south facade as an extension of the adjacent existing park, while continuing the street wall on the north, illustrates his attempt at balancing two, often incompatible ideas. In a country where land is a precious commodity the ACROS Building acts as both building and park, giving back what it takes from the land. In that simple gesture it redefines what an urban park can be.

The unpopularity of so-called "green architecture" is largely based on early attempts at ecological design (hippy communes and underground, or bermed, houses, for example). Recent projects by well-known architects illustrate that good design and eco-consciousness can co-exist, though Ambasz's design does not equal the architectural beauty of either Foster's Commerzbank or Piano's Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center. But it is apparent that Ambasz is trying to find an architectural language for his commendable ideas to rejuvenate and "green" the city.

The fifteen-story building contains an exhibition hall, museum, theater, offices, underground parking and retail, over one million square feet of program area, centered around a full-height atrium, oriented towards the south. Unfortunately where outside the gray mass of the building is balanced by profuse vegetation no relief seems to exist inside. Ambasz's creed, "green over gray" appears to have been reversed in the bland, monotonous tones of the atrium, which fortunately is bathed in light from the terraced south facade.

Completed in 1995 the building is a success in its native land, its terraced south facade utilized by many in the area for exercise and rest, affording views of the city and the harbor beyond. Unfortunately it has received little press overseas, especially in the United States, a country without Japan's starvation for usable land. But Ambasz's disenfranchisement is due more to his aesthetics than his ethics, or more importantly the public's view that architecture is not a solution to society's ills (a belief created by the death of Modernism and perpetuated by Postmodern folly). While it is not the intent to argue that belief here it is difficult to ignore the negative impact buildings and cities have on the environment, and that architecture (and the ACROS Building is an example) can become a powerful force to lessen or remedy these wrongs in the future.

[Google Earth link]

College in a Forest

College in a Forest

College in a Forest in Fredrikstad, Norway by Duncan Lewis, 1998.

Located in the wooded, rocky landscape of Fredrikstad, Norway, Duncan Lewis's project (with Pir II Arkitektkontor) for a college attempts to integrate into the existing landscape, paralleling the school's pedagogy: making students aware of environmental issues. Lewis uses an environmental approach both in the building's siting and its aesthetic.

Similar to Rem Koolhaas's design for a one-family house in Floirac, France, the college is broken down into three components: auxiliary spaces built into the rocky, sloping site; five wings emerging from these spaces, as well as the rock below; and three light, almost transparent, metallic beams, containing classrooms in an open plan. The first grounds the design into the earth, the second brings it out of the earth (the walls made from the same rock as the site), and the third places objects on the site, ultimately giving the project its expression.

The diagram at left shows the elevations of one of the beams, each differentiated by a different color. The beams are prefabricated off-site and basically placed on the site, which is homogeneous enough that no extra foundations are necessary. With tree removal necessary to place the classroom spaces on the site the architect has created a simulacra of the native vegetation: translucent trees of polyester resin molded into the facade. Lewis's imaginative solution to the site's destruction makes the inhabitant aware of the relationship between man and nature while commenting on how man views nature (as an artifact?).

The design raises many questions that will, no doubt, influence the students attending the college. The appeal of the project rests highly on the fascinating renderings that jar the viewer from any previous expectations. Now we can only await the completion of the school to see if the fusion of idea and technology achieves what the images promise.