Traditional architecture: The “Original Green”

Author: School of Architecture

Nowadays, it seems like everyone is “going green.” Working toward environmentally-friendly and energy-saving solutions has never been more in style. From an architect’s perspective, however, the idea of sustainability is nothing new. In fact, it’s one of the oldest concepts in the book.

“Originally, before the Industrial Revolution, architects had no choice but to build ‘green,’ ” said Michael Lykoudis, Francis and Kathleen Rooney Dean of the University of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture. “They had to go with the energy resources naturally available to heat and cool buildings.”

What was old has become new again, and the School of Architecture – positioning itself as the “Original Green” – is leading the charge back to the future of sustainable building.

Students learn to use design techniques and regional materials that enhance efficiency, Lykoudis explains. And the emphasis goes beyond simple solutions and the invention of more proficient mechanisms, such as bamboo flooring or other products intended to reduce a structure’s impact on the environment.

“That is only a small part of true sustainability,” says Lykoudis, who believes buildings must be made to last hundreds of years, not 20, and that they must take full advantage of natural ventilation and lighting. “We also need more sustainable communities, not just buildings. The carbon footprint of buildings is irrelevant if you have to drive everywhere you go.”

The School of Architecture is known for its commitment to traditional and classical architecture, which go hand-in-hand with sustainability, says Lykoudis.

“They work with a given climate,” he said, “rather than against it, to create more sustainable and comfortable buildings, using local materials and time-tested construction techniques to minimize the need for artificial heating and cooling.”

By drawing on success stories from the distant past, proponents of traditional and classical building and design are combining the best of both worlds – ancient ingenuity and the modern-day desire for sustainability.

Richard Economakis and the Bath studio

“It’s similar to the way classical building methods enhanced acoustics before the advent of speaker systems,” Lykoudis offers as an example. “At the theater of Epidaurus, built around the 3rd century B.C., you could drop a quarter on stage and hear it from each of the 14,000 seats. Maintaining the ingenuity of traditional design in the modern age promotes sustainability, reducing the use of fossil fuels.”

And it isn’t just about individual buildings; the “Original Green” concept also extends to entire cities, where community planning can prevent sprawl by creating towns and neighborhoods where everything is within walking distance so cars, and thereby fossil fuels, are less necessary.

In learning these concepts, Notre Dame students are exposed to a broad range of perspectives through their experience at the School of Architecture.

“Our students interact with accomplished architects, development professionals and community leaders across the nation and abroad, contributing directly to the urban evolution of cities,” Lykoudis says. “That means much more than simply designing a new building.”

Recent student projects have included a four-week studio course this summer where participants established a master plan for a central area along the River Avon in Bath, England, that incorporated the city’s history. A student organization called Students for New Urbanism also recently worked with South Bend’s Near Northwest Neighborhood Association to develop proposals for future zoning and growth in the city.

“Civic responsibility demands respect for traditions that have endured, recognition of how a new building or urban plan will affect the quality of life for people in the community now, and the long-term impact on our posterity,” Lykoudis says. “The curriculum strives to instill those values in our students.”


This article originally appeared in ND Works, September 10, 2009