For some green structures, the sustainable elements are designed to go unnoticed by the occupants, who merely enjoy the energy savings produced from the efficient materials and systems embedded within the building. Then there are those who wear their “greenness” on their sleeves — and their walls and roofs.
Sitting firmly in the latter category is Amsterdam’s SportsPlaza Mercator, designed by the Dutch architecture firm VenhoevenCS to have nearly every exposed surface covered in live vegetation. The sports complex and aquatic center, built in 2006 on the edge of a park in the city’s De Baarsjes neighborhood, appears to have mastered the ancient art of camouflage.
According to the architects, who spoke with DeZeen magazine, the impetus for the explosion of greenery on the building was for aesthetics rather than environmental issues. “Because the building was constructed in a park we wanted to preserve as much as possible, we completely covered it in vegetation, camouflaging its diverse program,” they said. “From a distance, it seems like an overgrown fortress flanking and protecting the entryway to the 19th century city.”
Recently, however, the seven-year-old building earned a nomination for a Green Building Award, sponsored by the Netherlands’ Dak & Gevel Groen magazine. The complex also has a green roof, but that hardly comes as a surprise.
True environmentalists may scoff at what seems to be a classic case of “greenwashing” a structure with a fairly ordinary carbon footprint, but nearly the entire surface area of the building — more than 76,000 square feet — does help absorb storm runoff and provide an added layer of natural insulation.
The lush, low-maintenance vegetation helps disguise the building, but it also serves another purpose: privacy. The three-story building contains swimming pools, a sauna, fitness studios, an events hall, a fast-food restaurant, a cafe and a nursery. The designers wanted to create a welcoming environment for the guests but also reduce the visibility of the aquatic facilities from the outside.
Most widows feature tinted glass so the spa guests could enjoy the facilities in peace. To help brighten up the interior, large skylights were included to let in the maximum amount of natural light.
Is the SportsPlaza Mercator one of the world’s greenest buildings? Maybe only if you’re measuring by the amount of chlorophyll per square inch. While its green cred would surely benefit with more efficient lighting and heating systems, or just by including any form of renewable energy generation, the center does stand as an accomplishment for taking the “green wall/green roof” trend to its logical extreme conclusion.