Green Meaning

The Dwight Research and Education Center Building at Pepperwood was completed in June 2010, and designed to be certified LEED Gold by the U.S. Green Building Council. To further the conservation education mission of the 3000 acre Pepperwood Preserve, the Center is intended to express, promote, and inspire green building.

An inspiring building is more than bricks and mortar, and a green building that inspires is more than a list of green materials and technologies. How do we express the green in building, especially on a large, pristine nature preserve?

The buildings of traditional cultures of the world offer some good examples, because they were forced to evolve from successive trial and error to become comfortable, secure, delightful, and sustainable. Traditional agricultural regions and practices are a particularly good place to find environmental values. A sense of nurturing is, after all, fundamental to agriculture and environmental conservation.

Buildings of the rural cultures are visually subordinate to the land. They are often rugged and even geological in form. They use materials that are sustainable, local and durable, as well as those that may gracefully age or become even more beautiful with repair. The materials are assembled with craftsmanship, which demonstrates and promotes a culture of care.

st francis, taos nm p: forrest

farmhouse of grass, near osaka, japan p: forrest

On these pre-industrial buildings, the structure is exposed and becomes the form and the finish surface.

Utilitarian elements are frankly expressed. The buildings are flexible in use, and even improved with remodeling. They use every means to conserve energy, because energy surpluses are temporary. The buildings are frugal. They often express an economy of elegant spareness and austerity.

Three categories of these qualities are most important to the design the Dwight Center at Pepperwood. The first two of these groups are timeless in principle. Some parts of the third group are for our era alone.

1- Site and Sun. The project makes its own sheltering site and uses passive solar and geological elements to stabilize the temperature. The building layout is a crescent to the sun, half buried in the temperate earth. Inhabitants dwell in louvered glass rooms within a “rock formation” of passive solar mud towers.

2- Materials, Authenticity, and Sustainability. The structural materials are the actual finish surfaces, and they will be allowed to attain their inherent patina. Concrete will be seen just as it comes from the formwork, and with characteristic imperfections. The recycled steel beams and girders will be allowed to slightly rust. Trash wood excelsior is used for the occasional floating acoustic ceiling panel. Straw, cork and recycled paper is used for different kinds of wall paneling, all unpainted.

3- Assembly, Craftsmanship and New Technology. The assembly and construction techniques are frankly expressed, showing off the structure and connections. The large tilting roof is a photo voltaic panel array. Building components, the low energy heating/cooling system, the LED lighting systems, and particularly elements of green technology, are all exposed and used sculpturally.

These elements are bolted on in an almost ad hoc manner, suggesting (and allowing) continuous development and change. New Technology is expressed as a contraption-in-process. Just as NASA’s lunar module did not ultimately look like a rocket ship, this developing green is more Hot Rod than German automobile.

Beyond its practical functions and green scorecard, this building is a kind of a coming-of-age story for a culture of environmental conservation. The building and the metaphor are about youth: slightly messy, searching, experimental, and showing great technical facility implemented with urgency, perhaps even for survival, but with confident optimism.