destroying the ‘green houses are ugly’ myth

Yesterday on Green Building Advisor, Alex Wilson attempted to dismantle the myth that green houses are ugly. Bold, yes, but the truth is most homes being built are horrendous and almost as many being peddled as green are really just greenwashed and appalling. While Jetson Green, treehugger, etc. make a concerted effort to cover nearly every green project, this invariably includes such winners as the neo-colonial LEED platinum or a 7,000 SF LEED platinum OC house with 3-car garage . We don’t really see the point, or desire, in dressing up new houses to look like they’re 80+ years old. But we’ve been told on numerous occasions inoperable/faux shutters that couldn’t cover the width of the window are a high selling point for the Kinkade crowd.

Wilson continues on about how the geodesic domes and high-tech experiments of the solar 70s were a bit out there – but at least they were trying something different and had the foresight to address these issues decades before needed. We wouldn’t be where we are without them, and several issues we’re dealing with or interested in today are derived from those clunky and awkward experiments. Wilson’s concludes by saying, “a compact, 1,400-square-foot home with a simple roofline… with an enticing porch that bring homeowners outside, with solar panels cleanly integrated into the roof, and with a kitchen garden out front,” would be very appealing, which sounds great to us. Even better if that house is semi-detached or terraced to add a little density. So with that being said, here are some green-er homes that we think are pretty stunning and really bust the ‘Green Homes are Ugly’ myth.

Werner Sobek

Haus R-128, Stuttgart (DE)

  • heating demand: not disclosed
  • recyclable building materials, built for disassembly, solar thermal storage, renewable energy and not a bad view in the house – awesome.

pfeifer kuhn architekten

  • patchworkhaus, Muellheim (DE)
  • heating demand: 77kWh/m²a
  • naturally lit and utilizing thermal storage of concrete and wood – add to the fact it’s actually a duplex, and this is definitely one we really like.

Walter Unterrainer

  • haus Dr. W., Satteins (AT)
  • heating demand: 14.7 kWh/m²a
  • primary demand: 25.5 kWh/m²a
  • passivhaus. polycarbonate. prefab.

Kieran Timberlake

  • Loblolly House, Taylors Is. (US)
  • prefab, designed for disassembly, touches earth lightly

Felix Jerusalem

  • Strohhaus, Eschenz (CH)
  • heating energy demand: 15 kWh/m²a
  • low/zero emission materials, prefab, daylighting, passive solar, designed to Minergie Standard and touches earth lightly.

Studio 804

  • Buffalo House, Kansas City (US)
  • photovoltaics, geothermal heat pump, off-grid, passive solar, rainwater harvesting.

Steinsvik Arkitektkontor AS

  • I-box 120, Tromso (NO)
  • Primary energy demand: c. 50 kWh/m²a
  • passivhaus. prefab wood panels. superinsulated. locally sourced/eco-friendly materials.

Mühlich, Fink & Partner

  • Passivhaus, Ulm (DE)
  • heating energy demand: 13 kWh/m²a
  • Primary energy demand: 37 kWh/m²a
  • passivhaus. cor-ten. awesome.

Christian Bauer & Associés 

  • Maison Moko, Schuttrange (LX)
  • heating energy demand: 44 kWh/m²a

Michael Shamiyeh/bau kultur

  • Haus Seifert, Volkersdorf (AT)
  • heating energy demand : 41 kWh/m²a
  • was planned for passivhaus standards, passive solar

helm westhaus architekten

  • Wohnhaus Tsingas, Berlin (DE)
  • heating energy demand : 48 kWh/m²a
  • solar thermal collector, rainwater harvesting, ecologically secured materials and use of passive solar make this a rather interesting project.


  • Solarhaus Sonnenberg, Stuttgart (DE)
  • heating energy demand : 32 kWh/m²a
  • solar thermal collector, solar thermal storage, prefab wood panels


5 responses to “destroying the ‘green houses are ugly’ myth

  1. Why can’t a green house be a neo-traditional? I question the implication that to be green you have to be stylistically modern. It is the same mistake that the New Urbanists have made. They took great planning principles for denser urban living and packaged them in a neo-classical language that is alienating and totally beside the point of the urban strategies originally proposed. Be green and be a modernist but be each separately.

    • John,

      “Why can’t a green house be a neo-traditional? I question the implication that to be green you have to be stylistically modern.”

      I think the real issue here is beyond that of style. green architecture, broadly, is the attempt the solve the problem of dwelling sustainably. Formally speaking, this can mean many things depending on site and geographic conditions. Whereas style implies a formal solution based on some notion taste informed by history, culture or even fashion – green building needs to be flexible enough to embrace different and new forms to solve the problems it address.

      The rigid symmetry, for example, in traditional architecture makes little sense in terms of a building’s relation to the sun. Traditionalism is also a bit of a slippery slope in these poly-cultual times.

      While I certainly embrace learning from history (as opposed to historicism) to better understand why certain formal solutions are employed in certain regions ie. understanding the vernacular, I also understand that traditional forms are not always traditional because they are intrinsically useful or “good” in an architectural sense (I also seem to understand the value of a run-on sentence) some forms stay with us because the were convenient or they carried forward with their own momentum, some forms stay with us because of insane bylaws.

      If we really think that we face serious environmental challenges we are going to have to embrace some new ideas about dwelling, about how we relate to our homes, neighbourhoods and cities and that will definitely mean some new ideas about form.

      As to separating green and modern, I see no need. The light-on-the-land approach of West-Coast Modernism has a great deal to teach us, as does the efficiency-based models of European Modernism, and Vancouver’s West End never ceases to inspire me to the potential of high-density urbanism. Where I would agree with you however, is with the object d’arte nature of many of the projects cited above – a very Modern trait. How many of these buildings are in an neighbourhood? How many are realistically affordable or practical at any large scale deployment?

      And oh boy, do I ever agree with your comments on New Urbanism.



  2. Man I have loved that Strohhaus ever since i saw it…All translucent(y)

  3. Green houses don’t have to look any particular way at all. They can be modern or traditional. Bungalow, Cape, or Colonial.
    See many examples of perfectly regular, and non-traditional green homes
    in the Green Homes section of Green building Advisor.

    Also, a related article to Alex’s is from our Green Primer: Do Green Houses Have to Look Weird?

    (I hope HTML works on this comment fierld; if not, I appologize in advance for the code)

    Thanks for reading GBA articles,

  4. Pingback: Passivhaus around the World, Part 1: Houses | Root Design Build - Green Homes