A 7-foot-wide hemisphere protrudes from the roof of Princeton’s architecture laboratory. Called the heliodome, the skylight was a scientific construction created in 1957 by visiting professors (and twins) Victor and Aladar Olgyay, designed to study the solar orientation of buildings to maximize passive heating. It was a pioneering experiment in “green architecture” — the movement to create sustainable buildings that minimize energy consumption and environmental impact.
Green architecture has taken on increasing urgency in the last decade, as a means of mitigating climate change and reducing dependence on imported oil. It is estimated that buildings account for almost half of all U.S. energy consumption; while studies suggest green construction can increase initial costs by about 2 percent, it can lead to savings over a building’s lifetime. Not surprisingly, sustainability has become an essential aspect of architecture curricula, explains Stan Allen *88, the dean of Princeton’s School of Architecture. “Everyone is green,” he says. “Just as you would not design a building that is structurally unsound, today you would not design a building that uses natural resources irresponsibly.”
Not so long ago, green architecture was considered a fringe topic focused largely on technical engineering issues. “There has been a shift in design culture over the past 30 years,” says Princeton professor Paul Lewis *92, who teaches a graduate-level studio course that deals with environmental questions. “Previously, architects saw energy and environmental concerns as contradictory to design curiosity,” he says, but he believes these issues are now instrumental to design.
Over the five decades since the Olgyays conducted their heliodome studies, Princeton has nurtured a small cadre of faculty and students who understood that sustainability is central to good design and can drive tremendous creativity. Maryann Thompson ’83, for example, has been implementing passive green-design strategies — design that responds to climate and site conditions to minimize energy use — since she began practicing architecture in the late 1980s. Stephen Cassell ’86, Adam Yarinsky *87, and Kimberly Yao *97, principals in the Architecture Research Office (ARO) in New York, have designed a plan for a future, more sustainable Manhattan. Claire Maxfield *03 chose a career in architectural environmental consulting, working with dozens of architects to make their designs sustainable.
For these five men and women, green architecture is a marriage of technology and imagination.