It pays to be green
Environmentally friendly houses have a better image and can be marketed more easily.
Many architects and developers are beginning to understand that ecological architecture is no longer viewed as a delusional pursuit of tree-lovers. These days it is state-of-the-art, employing advanced technologies and materials light years away from the mud and straw associated with it in the past. In Israel even big companies are getting involved.
Intel, for example, is erecting a green building in the Matam Industrial Park in Haifa, designed by architect Dagan Mosheli. Another such project is the tower being designed by Richard Meier on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard. Although this residential tower will be almost completely faced with glass, its plans are in keeping with the American LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, considered the strictest in the world. In choosing a green architect, developer Berggruen Holdings shows sensitivity to current trends and is fostering expectations this trend will filter down from luxury towers to standard construction.
The awareness of ecological, energy-saving technologies and green materials is on the rise. The construction industry is one of the world's biggest polluters, and American studies have found that lighting, air conditioning and elevators account for 40 percent of the country's energy consumption. They use 71 percent of the electricity and are responsible for 38 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions. A switch to thrifty ecological planning would, according to these studies, reduce electricity consumption by 15 percent.
Even though most developers have not yet embarked on ecological construction, there are instances of small developers taking up the challenge and deciding to promote green designs in their projects. Two such developers are Yaniv and Yair Reif, of Haifa, who are building near Derech Hayam and Shoshanat Hacarmel Street in Haifa. The Reifs hired architect Joseph Cory, of Geotectura, which specializes in ecological and sustainable construction, to design a green apartment building with 12 units. Cory drew up the plans and even convinced the developers to forgo one of the apartments to reduce the building's footprint and leave more space for a garden.
The building, which has been dubbed the SunSail, will have its own water purification system for waste water (from showers and sinks), a passive ventilation system that uses openings to take advantage of the breeze, optimal exposure to the sun, for natural lighting, and a curved southern facade designed to be covered with photovoltaic cells that could produce 40 percent of the building's electricity needs.
Strangely, the reason this facade will not be covered with cells that convert the sun's energy into electricity is the Haifa municipality's refusal to approve the plans - for environmental reasons: a photovoltaic facade would make the SunSail look different from the buildings in the surrounding area. The building's shape has been preserved nonetheless, in the hope that city hall will change its mind in the near future.
Despite the municipal obstacles, Cory believes a green house will be easier to market. SunSail, which is due to be completed by 2010, is the brainchild of the owners of Rehesh Life Insurance Agents, whose last real estate project was a building slated for preservation. Cory says the Reifs care about the environment and feel that ecological architecture is the right thing to do.
One of the Reifs' plans to live in the building, and Cory explains that "a developer's long-term involvement in a project is important, because the savings in maintenance costs are an important factor in ecological construction."
"The concept of sustainable construction is futuristic in the Israeli market," continues Cory. "The economic and emotional involvement of the project's developers for the long-term is encouraging."
Another project on Cory's drawing board is a proposal from an ecological design competition at Sde Boker Institute of Desert Studies. His wants to see an ecological neighborhood in the desert, planned jointly with Flavio Adriani, a mechanical engineer from Brazil. Cory's design, which advanced to the final stage of the competition, includes a southern wall with photovoltaic cells, optimum use of the shade and a roof with an open area and a rain collection system. Cory notes that from a functional point of view, the structures are designed to be used as normal homes.
The buildings will look like low hills without view-blocking dominant elements. His proposal is essentially for a new kind of suburb, and some of his simulated images even include a small swimming pool. This addition raises questions concerning the ecological construction of a suburb, which by definition gobbles up land and is non ecological.
Cory opposes fanaticism, preferring instead to focus on the positive ecological aspects. In his leisure time, he draws buildings with a sci-fi movie look that save energy and blend with the landscape.
In addition to designing buildings, Cory also dabbles in getting the most out of nature. He entered the WaterAid competition, organized by the Arup engineering company in England, with an apparatus designed to collect dew. Green construction goes well with construction for distressed populations and regions hit by natural disasters. The WatAir, designed in conjunction with architect Eyal Malka, collects, filters and stores water from dew, and can be set up in areas suffering from drought or damage to their water supply due to disaster or contamination.
The current WatAir model weighs 35 kilograms and is easy to assemble. Cory is planning a more advanced model, in a joint venture with the Dutch company Creative Construction. The new design will be a kind of survival kit that will have photovoltaic cells and can be used to build an emergency city.
A model of WatAir and other projects designed by Cory are on display until the end of this month at the Elements of Thought exhibition at ZeZeZe Architecture Gallery in Tel Aviv, which is highlighting Geotectura's activities.
Another joint venture between Cory and Malka produced the i-rise, a sustainable house that could be the Israeli interpretation of quality of life. This project placed third place at the international Shinkenchiku Residential Design Competition in Japan, and won first prize in the Israeli Project of the Year Competition (Conceptual projects category) in 2006.
This space-saving building is just 5 meters by 7.5 meters and can be as tall as a family needs it to be. The i-rise is designed for industrial prefabrication, and can be altered and adapted to each family's needs. The design includes systems for water collection, passive ventilation and photovoltaic cells.
One idea of Cory's that borders on the fantastical is SunHopes, a paradigm developed with Dr. Pini Gurfil of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. This idea is designed to solve the problem of limited space for affixing photovoltaic cells, and consists of a clusters of balloons shaped like flying sauces, filled with helium and coated with photovoltaic cells.
"Large areas are needed to produce large quantities of energy, and space restrictions inspired us to devise the clusters, which always have some part exposed to the sun and can be used as 'refueling stations' for electric cars," says Cory.
Cory's balloons could also promote Shay Agassi's idea to turn Israel into a market for electric cars - an idea whose weak point is the reliance on crude oil or coal, which pollute the environment, for electricity production.
Cory's pursuit of ecological architecture, or as he prefers to call it, sustainable architecture, stems from his belief that a contemporary architect must not ignore global problems.
"We all want a better world," he says , "and it is up to us. It is not enough to dream about such a world. We have to create it."