A Place to Stay: Building Green

Article excerpt

A Look at the Past: Introduction and History

Nearly all living things may be called artisans, designers, and builders. We need only to look around us in our environment. We can see that birds, animals, insects, and marine or aquatic life build "homes" for many of the same reasons that humans do. We can see nests of all kinds, burrows, and tunnels that are carefully designed using the materials that nature has provided in an efficient and resourceful manner. They provide many of the same benefits that we, as humans, expect from our homes. These expectations include shelter from the weather--to keep us warm and provide a measure of safety. In the case of many animals, shelter also provides a measure of protection from predators.

Looking back in time, the earliest of humans were thought to have been cave or cliff dwellers and nomads. Ancient artifacts reveal that in many parts of the world early humans were hunters and gatherers of food as a means of survival. Nomadic peoples traditionally designed and constructed tents from animal hides, wool, and other natural materials. No matter what the societal organization was at the time, whether cave dweller or nomad, the focus of shelter needs was a natural process and complementary to the environment. Cave and cliff dwellers may have changed the properties of a cave or cliff to more readily meet their needs or perhaps added a fire pit to generate warmth, roast food, or fire ceramic wares, but their impact was probably minimal.

Much like humans, animals and insects construct structures to meet their needs. Look at a squirrel's nest and you will see that it consists of leaves and twigs that are carefully assembled to tie the nest to the limbs of a tree for warmth and security. Many species of birds are magnificent builders that use materials close at hand and readily available to build nests. Some birds will use twigs and needle-like leaves from pine trees, while others may make a composite of dried grasses and mud that makes for a strong and durable nest. Yet other large birds of prey may use large and heavy sticks to build a nest, while a sparrow prefers the soft texture of lichens. In the end, most all of these animal structures complement the ways of nature and are reclaimed in time or even recycled and used by other birds!

In time, humans began to develop societal organizations that eventually would become what we know as towns and cities. As people began to develop societal organizations, we can see an increase in the sophistication in the design of their structures. Some of the oldest structures that remain are very impressive--such as the Great Pyramids in Giza, the Roman Coliseum, and the Parthenon of Greece, built on the Acropolis in Athens. Stonehenge, a massive circular megalithic monument on the Salisbury Plain in southern England, is the most famous of all prehistoric structures (Info Please).

While many of these famous structures still survive, most were temples or monuments recognizing rulers and elite classes of the past. However, the Greeks are noted for their focus on the comforts of the living. They used their time and resources to invent what we call necessities today-such as flush toilets and running water. (Ross, p. 36) Today there are few remains of dwellings used by common folk from ancient times. What we do know is that early humans made extensive use of natural materials that were readily available to them. Additionally, many early dwellings capitalized on the passive nature of the sun's energy, geography, and climate.

As the world's population grew, there also was an increase in the demand for buildings and homes. Perhaps the industrial revolution may have, in part, been responsible for the change in the way that homes and buildings were constructed. During the industrial revolution, the engines of industry expanded their quest for technology and energy. The invention of the steam engine, discovery of low-cost petroleum, improvements in coal mining, and the invention of rail transportation helped provide an environment that changed the way that people designed and constructed buildings and other products because of the benefits of concentrated energy. …