Few sensible people dispute the fact that we'll have to pay the piper someday soon for the harm we've wrought upon our environment. And none of us, if we're honest with ourselves, can refute that architecture contributes substantially to the damage done. Building is an act of tearing down. Living is a process of consumption. All we can really do is mitigate our incursions. So we continue to subscribe to the print edition of our local newspaper—even though we can read it now online—but we'll put it in a bin at the curb on recycling day. Small steps indeed, but in this battle small steps do make a difference.
We're all overwhelmed by the number of decisions we must weigh as good citizens of the world. Do we buy a flat of 12-ounce bottles of water, a six-pack of larger liter bottles, or get home delivery of those 5-gallon refillable behemoths? Maybe we're wrong to drink bottled water in the first place. Silly elitist conundrum, surely—but one that thousands of good-intentioned people face every day. How much do we change our habits and our desires to lessen our impact on the planet? Which changes will prove most meaningful and which can we reasonably take on and maintain amid our hectic lives? Ultimately, what are we willing to give up?
Do we give up the dream of creating something beautiful because it means we must, in some measure, destroy something else beautiful and valuable? Both you and I are taking down trees to pursue our chosen professions. And we both hope we turn them into something useful and artful. If you design a home that delights and endures, maybe you've done your part to build something sustainable. After all, longevity consumes fewer resources. If you're lucky enough to find a client with deep pockets and an even deeper conscience, you can probably do substantially more to soften the blow of that house on the land for years to come.
The good news is it's getting easier all the time to make better decisions. The sacrifices are less debilitating, less life-altering. You can still drive a car, but now you can choose one that minimizes emissions and maximizes mileage. My neighborhood has a Toyota Prius on almost every block. The car has no maintenance history or proven life span—and frankly it's a little homely—but people are snapping it up. There are just enough rationales in the win column to make a difference: tax incentives, access to carpool lanes on overcrowded highways, and that smug feeling while passing gas stations without slowing down. What do I love about the car? That golden silence as it glides to a stop.
As your options for green choices grow wider, deeper, and less homely, you have fewer excuses for making uninformed or careless decisions in your residential practice. Someday soon—maybe even today—you won't have to convince your clients to build themselves a green house. You'll just design it that way, from the ground up.
Comments? Call: 202.736. 3312; write: S. Claire Conroy, residential architect, One Thomas Circle, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20005; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.