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Architect Frank Harmon Debunks Modern Myths About Sustainable Design
These excuses just won't work any longer.
Today, “green design” has moved into the mainstream as architects’ commercial, institutional and even governmental clients recognize the cost savings they receive when their buildings don’t consume as much energy.
Yet myths about sustainable design still pervade public discourse, giving individuals, homebuilders and corporations “excuses” for ignoring the drum beat for sustainable design.
Frank Harmon, FAIA, principal of the award-winning firm Frank Harmon Architect PA in Raleigh, NC, was beating that drum long before “green design” entered the general lexicon. Now a nationally recognized leader in modern, sustainable and regionally appropriate architecture, he continues to bring the principles of sustainability to bear on each and every project his firm undertakes.
When asked recently what he feels are the most common misconceptions about sustainable design, he offered the following along with the reasons why these myths need to be busted for once and for all.
Myth #1: Sustainable buildings require complicated technology and exotic hardware.
Reality: “The most important sustainable decision we can make for any building is its orientation on its site: how it faces the sun for natural daylight, opens to the cooling breezes for natural ventilation, and shelters its inhabitants from cold winter winds,” he said. “Site orientation may be ‘low-tech,’
Myth #2: Sustainable buildings require expensive, unusual materials.
Reality: “Ordinary, locally produced materials, and how we use them without waste, produce sustainable buildings,” Harmon said. “For example, sturdy juniper shingles were a sustainable choice for the cottages built on the Outer Banks. Simple Southern yellow pine is a sustainable choice for a house in Charleston.
“In fact,” he added, “over 75 percent of what makes a building sustainable is contained in its orientation and in its ‘bones – in the materials it is made of. There’s nothing high-tech or unusual about that.”
Myth #3: Sustainable buildings are expensive.
Reality: “Sustainable, eco-friendly buildings cost the same as ‘ordinary’
Myth #4: Sustainable buildings are weird.
Reality: “Far from weird, a sustainable house is light-filled, open to the outdoors, full of fresh air, and made of natural materials,” Harmon said. “Again, some of the buildings our ancestors built, that we cherish today, are sustainable:
Myth #5: I can build a sustainable house, office, or school, but it won't make any difference.
Reality: “Nothing could be farther from the truth,” Harmon said. “Forty percent of the energy used in America today is consumed in buildings. That's more than the entire transportation system -- cars, airplanes, trucks, etc. – put together. Buildings also consume 30 percent of our fresh water and 25 percent of all our wood products. So if you want to make a difference, buildings are the best place to start. And you'll have a more enjoyable place in which to live, work, and learn because of it.”
For more information on why sustainable design matters, visit www.frankharmon.com.
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About Frank Harmon, FAIA: Frank Harmon, FAIA, principal of Frank Harmon Architect PA in Raleigh, NC, is also a Professor in Practice at NC State University and a frequent speaker at AIA and other design conventions and conferences throughout the US and Canada. In 2010, his firm was ranked 13th out of the top 50 firms in the nation by Architect magazine and Harmon was included in Residential Architect’s recent “RA 50: The short list of architects we love.” His firm’s work has been featured in numerous books, magazines, journals and ezines on architecture, including ArchDaily.com, Dwell, Architectural Record, Architect, and Residential Architect. For more information, go to www.frankharmon.com.