A primary concern for many architects when it comes to the traditional architecture versus green building debate revolves around why green building is being considered a ‘style’. All buildings should be fundamentally sustainable and efficient but, some wonder, why should that dictate aesthetics?
These savvy industry professionals have illuminated the blurring of the lines that has always been relevant in the green sector – the subtlety of greenwash. While it is certainly not the case that all architectural developments that have a so-called ‘green’ look are attempting to greenwash, there is definitely a notion that if it has a green aesthetic, we will be more convinced of its green qualities.
One of the latest developments about which sweeping green claims have been made is Tokyo’s Shimizu Corporation Headquarters by the engineering, construction and architecture firm of the same name. While there is no doubting the building’s green prowess and low carbon output, it is being heralded as the greenest building in the world.
How can a building with a carbon output be the greenest in the world, when carbon neutral equivalents already exist?
The building in question features massive carbon output reductions compared to its office building counterparts and incorporates a number of smart green technologies, but despite its developer’s green ambition, its promotion gets a little sticky.
Do the developers have any right to call a building green – much less the world’s greenest – if it has not yet been internationally, or even nationally recognised for its green merit?
As it stands, this building and many others like it are being celebrated for presumed future achievements and recognition. Statements such as ‘the building is expected to cut 90 per cent of its original output’ or in the case of the Shimizu headquarters ‘the energy output is expected to be offset’ may very well be true, but they have not yet come to pass. Some wish to recognise, celebrate and label these developments before they have proven their merit.
One parallel is in the realm of award-winning buildings. If a building is expected to win awards for its architecture and design, however, it would be ridiculous to call it award-winning before it has even been recognised.? How then, can we label these buildings as the next big green thing before they have even proven themselves?
This is why green standards such as LEED and the GBCA Green Star ratings exist. They ensure the running of a building can be tested without anyone being duped by what is simply a green aesthetic or green talk.
All of this is not to say these buildings will never be recognised; they most likely will. But when developers and promoters jump the gun and call a building the ‘greenest’ the ‘best’ and the ‘most iconic’ before those claims have been proven, it leaves too much room for error.