A new luxury apartment complex in Milan is aimed at buyers who want to be environmentally conscious without too much sacrifice.
Feb. 19, 2007 - It takes more than a few solar panels to be at the cutting edge of green living. Architect Norman Foster's Santa Giulia complex, now under construction in southeastern Milan, is part of a new wave of "sustainable architecture" that is turning green a luxury. Foster's 120 square hectare "city within a city" will have classic energy savers like solar panels and heat pumps, and it will use "co-generation" technology in which heat emitted as a by-product of electricity generation is used to warm the building. But Foster has also looked at the big picture, forming the structural layout into a spiral shape around the private park, channeling air currents to allow breezy ventilation—and cutting out the need for air-conditioning—even during Italy's humid summers. Foster will spend €2 billion on the project, and each apartment will go on sale for an average of €1.7 million. "If you want to save the planet, you have to think about how we live in cities," says Stefan Behling, senior partner and sustainability expert at Foster & Partners. "You have to think, 'how do you get people to live and work together and leave the minimum CO2 footprint?'" Santa Giulia, due for completion in 2010, offers a convincing answer.
Luxury green resorts are a sign of how much climate change has entered the public consciousness. According to the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment in London, nine out of 10 British buyers want to live in an environmentally friendly home and are willing pay extra for it. The response from architects? Concepts like air-conditioning that automatically switches itself off when a window opens (an idea that also saves money) and heating systems that use the surrounding soil to shift temperatures into the ideal comfort zone. Being able to afford—and show off—an environmental aesthetic has become more popular these days.Even if buyers' motivations are superficial, the investment in the kind of green technologies used in the Fosters complex can make a difference. Half of world-energy consumption goes to buildings and the electricity, lighting and air-conditioning it takes to run them, and another 25 percent goes to transport. Santa Giulia, slated for completion by 2010, will not only offer its 60,000 inhabitants housing kitted out with the latest energy-saving devices, but also schools, churches, retail space and public transport links to the rest of Milan within walking distance. This mixing of activities is key to having a light environmental impact, says Behling. "If you develop new pieces of city," he says, "it's extremely important to have them at a high density, so a lot of people are living and staying all in the same place." When designing Santa Giulia, Foster & Partners had the option to spread it out more (think American-style suburban sprawl) but chose instead to make the neighborhood compact. Maybe eventually such green architecture can convince Americans to get out of their 4X4s and take the bus.
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