With its whimsically shaped ventilation cowls and lush foliage, the skygarden at Beddington Zero (fossil) Energy Development (BedZED) in England looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.
Located in Wallington, a suburb south of London, BedZED is also Britain's largest mixed-use, carbon-neutral green development.
Built in 2002, BedZED features 82 affordable housing units and 27,000 square feet (2,500 square meters) of work and office space. The complex boasts many green features: It was constructed from reclaimed steel, wood certified as sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and as many local materials as possible.
The buildings are heavily insulated and feature large, south-facing windows to take advantage of natural heating and light. Offices face north to reduce air-conditioning costs in the summer. (See pictures of floating green cities.)
According to BedZED’s designers, BioRegional, the Peabody Trust, and Bill Dunster Architects, the appliances are energy efficient. The complex is festooned with solar panels, and a combined heat and power plant runs on tree-clipping waste. BedZED reportedly uses about 90 percent less energy for heating and 25 percent less electricity than conventional buildings use.
All the fixtures are designed to save water, and rainwater is collected. Sewage is also treated on-site through biological processes.
BedZED is an example of a growing number of buildings that are designed to be "net zero," meaning they produce as much energy as they use (Walgreens recently announced plans to build the first net zero energy store).
To some, net zero is the logical extension of a green building movement that has been growing steadily from the 1970s, when people started putting up solar panels and boosting insulation, after decades of cheap fossil fuels in the early and mid-20th century.
"It's critical to look at buildings as whole systems," David Bergman, a green architect, professor, and author of the book Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide, recently told National Geographic.
"How much can they be self-sufficient or impact free, both in terms of their materials and internal systems, and how they affect communities?" he asked.
(Check out National Geographic and Google's live Hangout on Earth Day at 12 p.m. on April 22, 2013.)
—Brian Clark Howard