The Concept of Green Architecture

By Michael Wolfe ; Updated September 15, 2017
Many new buildings are built according to the principles of "green architecture."

"Green" architecture, also known as "sustainable architecture" or "green building," is the theory, science and style of buildings designed and constructed in accordance with environmentally friendly principles. Green architecture strives to minimize the number of resources consumed in the building's construction and use, as well as the harm done to the environment through the emission of pollution.


While the principles behind environmentally sustainable architecture have been around for decades, many of the ideas have only recently gained currency with the growth of the environmentalist movement, heightened concerns about the negative effects of climate change, and spikes in the price of electricity and fuel. This has spurred an interest in clean, energy-efficient building. In 1993, the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting environmentally friendly building, was born and now certifies projects as environmentally friendly.


According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, most green buildings have a number of common components. This include a focus on energy efficiency and, in some cases, renewable energy; the efficient use of water; the use of environmentally preferable building materials and specifications; a minimization of the waste and toxic chemicals generated in the building's construction and operations; good indoor air quality; and an eye on so-called "smart" growth and sustainable development.


Green architecture produces environmental, social and economic benefits. Environmentally, green architecture helps reduce pollution, conserve natural resources and prevent environmental degradation. Economically, it reduces the amount of money that the building's operators have to spend on water and energy and improves the productivity of those using the facility. And, socially, green buildings are meant to be beautiful and cause only minimal strain on the local infrastructure.


According to "Newsweek," although some green buildings are commonly touted as universally attractive, some are rather homely. While beauty can be seen in these buildings' efficiency, many are lacking aesthetically. Also, many buildings, such as the shotgun houses of New Orleans are naturally "green," although the principles of green architecture were not consciously applied, meaning that the label cannot be applied only to modern buildings.


Green architecture is growing exponentially. According to "Newsweek" magazine, as of 2008, more than 16,000 green building projects were registered with the U.S. Green Building Council in an attempt to receive a certification as a sustainable project. By contrast, in 2000, only 573 projects were registered. This suggests that green architecture, fueled by concerns about climate change, the price of energy, and the world's dwindling natural resources, will continue to grow in popularity.

About the Author

Michael Wolfe has been writing and editing since 2005, with a background including both business and creative writing. He has worked as a reporter for a community newspaper in New York City and a federal policy newsletter in Washington, D.C. Wolfe holds a B.A. in art history and is a resident of Brooklyn, N.Y.