Book Review: The Green Studio Handbook

The Green Studio Handbook, Second Edition: Environmental Strategies for Schematic Design by Alison Kwok and Walter Grondzik
Architectural Press, 2011
Paperback, 424 pages

The green building trend is undeniable. The decision to undertake a green building at the start of a project is more and more common, as clients embrace the movement towards sustainability, as users demand more responsible buildings, as green ratings systems like LEED are adopted by local governments and required for certain buildings, and as architects are more proficient in guiding highly specialized teams towards the goal of a green building. The last is happening through programs like LEED and the USGBC, through the AIA's efforts, within in schools of architecture, and in media coverage of green buildings. While many efforts fall short of being truly sustainable (broader and more long-term than "green building"), most architects will contend that is their goal, that they strive for a comprehensive and cohesive green architecture, not just a LEED certification that is the sum of certain parts. Yet the majority of green building today utilizes a highly technological approach that requires the involvement of a growing number of consultants to implement systems that are more and more complicated. In this regard the architect has become akin to a film director, guiding the direction of the building, coordinating these key players, and balancing the myriad issues towards creating the best and greenest building within the project's restrictions.

With this sort of approach, this second edition of The Green Studio Handbook is an extremely valuable tool for making decisions early in a project, ones that will help dictate the form of a building, help determine what systems will need to be in place and which consultants will need to be brought on board, and help set a budget or see what can fit within a predetermined budget. The book details 42 strategies in six chapters: Envelope, Lighting, Heating, Cooling, Energy Production, Water and Waste. Each one discusses key architectural issues and considerations, design procedures (the most valuable aspect of the book, given its focus on schematic design), illustrated examples, and further references. The chapters are cross-referenced, so architects who know they will be incorporating skylights (toplighting, ch. 10), for example, can see related strategies that may be appropriate for the design. Coming after these six chapters are ten case studies, diverse in form, geography, and -- to a lesser extent -- the green strategies used and highlighted.

The book is aimed at students as well as professionals, and it is certainly appropriate for both, be it at the introductory level and as a solid reference for seasoned green designers. Many green building projects address water reuse (ch. 37) and stack ventilation (ch. 22), but a lack of experience with fuel cells (ch. 34) or bioswales (ch. 41), for example, points to the book's strength as a go-to source for exploring strategies and determining how to design it into a building. The decision to focus on schematic design is an important one -- related to form-giving, budgets, and other considerations -- that helps to make the book less dry than more technical references can be. Calculations are present where necessary, but they do not substitute for the important explanatory text that educates designers in the various strategies, so they can achieve that comprehensive and cohesive green architecture.