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The greening of the urban landscape

GREEN ARCHITECTURE Brenda and Robert Vale Publisher: Thames and Hudson, UK Price: L18.95

By Brendavale
Published: Sunday 31 October 1993

Generous sunlight in buildings WHEN WILLIAM Morris began his epic, The Earthly Paradise, with these lines in 1868, he was reacting to the effects of the Industrial Revolution and the unbridled urban growth of 19th century England. A century later, what was confined to the West has spread across the globe. And because we can neither forget nor get away from urban reality, the next best thing is to learn to live with our cities without jeopardising the planet.

With "green" awareness coming of age in the 1990s, a lot of thought is being given to the problems of urban life. This book, written by Brenda and Robert Vale, is an architectural response to the problem. Replete with lucid text and appropriate photographs and sketches, the book introduces the reader to the environmental approach to architecture.

The authors maintain that architects and designers, through their buildings, provide the source of at least 50 per cent of the carbon dioxide contributing to global warming. If that is indeed so, it is a matter of serious concern. Nevertheless, the fact remains that huge in-built refrigeration systems for summer, acceptance of large heat losses in winter, short life spans for buildings and failure to harmonise with local materials have been characteristic of the accelerated pace of modern construction in the West. And what the West does today, the world does tomorrow.

The present Western way of life is contrasted with what it could be in the future, drawing on sustainable technologies that are already available. To illustrate green architecture, the authors draw on a number of case studies, ranging from underground houses in New Hampshire to an office-building in Stockholm.

The authors consider both old and new structures and explore possible ground rules for a "green city". The book is a good read if the West-centred approach that pervades it and, by implication, the mind-set of the authors, can be ignored.

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