Once Upon a Green Time

Energy costs were always my mother’s main concern ...

Energy costs were always my mother’s main concern about owning a castle.

Not that my family ever really considered moving into one. Nevertheless, when reading stories to my sister and I about knights, damsels — and everything that threatens knights and damsels — she would always pause mid fairy tale and say, "Can you imagine how much it would cost to heat that thing?"

It added a somewhat practical element to bedtime story hour: But the woman had a point. Castles are drafty, and big.

Yet amazingly, my mother apparently was not the only one concerned with royal power costs. Behold the design for Castle House, a London skyscraper that includes a unique energy saving feature estimated to reduce residents’ energy bills by up to 40 percent.

When built, it will have more than 300 apartments (less drafty than a stone castle, but still, large). The 43-story building will be targeted to young professionals and contains a combined heat and power plant, according to its developers.

But Castle House’s most unique feature is its wind energy turbines. The structure is aerodynamically designed to channel wind to three nine-meter turbines on top of the building.

The turbines, sitting on the top 20 meters, will be able to produce enough electricity to light the whole building. All of it.

Castle House’s developers — Castle House Developments Limited, a joint venture involving the London developer Multiplex — told London SE1 the roof would be a "highly visible representation of the building’s green credentials."

And those turbines are indeed very visible: Some have criticized the building’s design as a result (posts on one Web site called it a Norelco Razor).

Yet that’s not likely to deter the developer, who from the start wanted the design to target getting an EcoHomes assessment rating of “excellent.” The design firm, after all, hired a green-minded architect — Hamilton’s, a 40-year-old, 200 strong firm. Its architects have designed schools, homes, offices and more.

"We have created a pioneering, landmark building of the highest quality, that will be the first of a cluster of towers that marks the new Elephant & Castle [neighborhood]," Multiplex director Richard Banks told London SE1. "The team has produced a striking building which will set the benchmark in design, quality and energy reduction for the future regeneration of the area. Hamilton’s design is outstanding."

According to their company brochure, Hamilton considers sustainable building methods at "every opportunity."

"In addition to energy use, other significant aspects of sustainable design addressed in our work include water management, pollution, embodied energy, material specification, ecology, health and wellbeing, waste and construction impacts," the brochure says. "We believe the architect’s role is to understand these issues as fully as possible, and to develop a strategy that enables them to be integrated harmoniously into the overall project at all levels, from concept to detail."

Now true, the developer asked for green design — but it takes a truly brave architect to design a structure that will alter the skyline with giant wind turbines.

As more and more green design features are becoming mainstream, society is bound to see — and accept — non-traditional design. But for those expecting a home with a white picket fence, a home with a plant-covered roof may still look out of place.

And that’s just as true for UK citizens who expect their newest
skyscraper to have an angular, shiny peak — not a roof made of giant wind energy
converters. One of green design’s main challenges has always been its unusual appearance; what’s good for the environment isn’t always what’s expected by the eye.

Still, the project has been called a catalyst for change and overhaul in the area. But it may do more than just encourage new development.

"Hamilton’s has designed the building from the outside in and inside out to ensure [the sustainable] requirements were met," Banks said.

That’s a system that makes sense. And when you put it that way, it’s really kind of hard to compare Castle House a giant shaving device, isn’t it?