Smart, Smart Growth

Concentrating people into high-density living arrangements is a central premise of the “smart growth” movement. But the nature of these high density communities is what separates the truly smart developments from the merely smart.

Green buildings are designed, essentially, to require no more energy and water inputs than they are able to generate using on-site systems. A green building is also designed, of course, to use non-toxic, sustainable materials, and to recycle or 100% treat all of its waste. But green buildings may also be awe-inspiring feats of architecture, and fantastic spaces for humans to work, live, and congregate.

Green Building
Image: Montana State Univ.

A mesmerizing example of such a green building showed up in the December 2006 issue of The Atlantic magazine, in a detailed illustration that consumes nearly the entire space of a two-page advertisement. This ad, placed by United Technologies, and accompanied by the phrase “Imagine that. You can do well in the world without hurting it,” there is a cross-sectional illustration of building perhaps ten stories in height that is “the first zero net energy building.”

On parts of the roof and on sections of passive solar sunshades are arrays of photovoltaics that are totally integrated into the surfaces.

Designed to operate inside ducts with barely visible intakes, high-tech wind-turbines also operate, silently, to generate additional electricity. Ultra high energy-efficient elevators speed people and cargo throughout the levels. Underground is a cistern, to collect all of the building’s runoff from rainfall. Rooftops are covered in turf including plants and ponds, with a water reclamation system integrated into the landscaping.

Between cantilevered beams of steel and composite, this large green building has floor-to-ceiling “electro-chromic” windows that automatically increase their tint depending on the degree of sunlight. These windows may also be photovoltaic. Various levels of the building have extra-high ceilings, as high as twenty feet. Workspaces and residences are placed throughout the building, and a giant central atrium ensures ample air circulation throughout the building.

Along with rainwater cisterns that can either draw from or supply municipal pipes, beneath the building are parking areas and utility areas including electrical storage units that use fuel cells or batteries. The climate and energy functions of the building are completely automated, and controllable from anywhere in the world using a cell phone.

Sunlight provides energy, rain provides water, nothing pollutes, there is no “urban heat island” effect, and people live in enjoyable and inspiring spaces in very high proximity to each other. Green buildings make humanity’s footprint smaller on the earth, and they can also make the life within the print a better life than ever.

One Response to “Smart, Smart Growth”
  1. Lars Smith says:

    Also check out the European Passive Houses,

    The house are low-energy houses, insulated so that no heating is necessary. About 4000 have been built in Europe. A searchable database is


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