If there is an underlying theme in green buildings that has a long history, it's that our contemporary civilization needs to learn the art of "living in place" for an extended period of time. For most North Americans, the Native American and Canadian way of life, with respect for the land, viewing the Earth as a Mother who gives all life, offers a way to live today to benefit seven generations into the far future. Most Americans would also agree that the attraction of this way of life is nostalgic at best, given our present urban society. Nevertheless, Aboriginal traditions exert a powerful pull on our psyche and have found expression in a number of elements of green buildings and green development. The idea of preserving open space and natural habitat is one way of honoring nature, while preserving natural elements in buildings is undoubtedly good for the psyche.
Another way Native American and Native Canadian approaches are being incorporated into buildings lies in climate-responsive design. Many architects are inspired by the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings in southwestern Colorado, where the overhanging cliffs protect against the harsh summer sun, high in the sky, while still allowing the lower-angle, warming winter sun to enter the homes. The adobe and stone buildings also stay cool in summer and warm in winter through their "thermal inertia," the ability to
soak up heat during the day, for example, and release it slowly during the evening. Other Southwestern developments have been influential in local architectural styles. In 2006 I visited the Taos Pueblo in northern New Mexico that has several stories of apartments constructed of adobe bricks in two structures on both sides of a small river. There's a large plaza and a recorded population of nearly 4,500 people, but otherwise nothing remarkable to suggest that this site has been continuously occupied for almost 600 years. However, the adobe building style is endemic to New Mexico and has influenced building styles throughout the arid Southwest.
In the maritime Pacific Northwest, the Native American building style is the longhouse, a wooden structure large enough for an extended family, with plenty of access to nearby woods, rivers and the ocean — sources of abundant food, shelter and clothing. Preservation of rivers, riverbanks, public access to the beaches, marshland habitats, native plants and old-growth forests is very much part of the Northwest psyche, as are increasingly strong efforts to protect the varieties of wild salmon, the totem animal of that region.
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