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How ‘green’ is their valley?

A UMass exhibit explores sustainable architecture

Those involved in the “Greening the Valley’’ exhibit include (from left) architects Sigrid Miller Pollin and Joseph Krupczynski, University Gallery director Loretta Yarlow, architect Chris Riddle, and curators Meg Vickery and Eva Fierst. Those involved in the “Greening the Valley’’ exhibit include (from left) architects Sigrid Miller Pollin and Joseph Krupczynski, University Gallery director Loretta Yarlow, architect Chris Riddle, and curators Meg Vickery and Eva Fierst. (Nancy Palmieri for The Boston Globe)
By Jaci Conry
Globe Correspondent / February 4, 2010

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Meg Vickery wants to dispel the notion that you have to be a “tree-hugging, granola person’’ to invest in green, environmentally sound architecture.

“Green houses can be really attractive and exciting,’’ said Vickery, curator of “Greening the Valley: Sustainable Architecture in the Pioneer Valley,’’ a new exhibition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s University Gallery. “You can incorporate green elements into existing Colonial- and Cape-style houses. I wanted to show people that green is accessible, that down the street is an architect who can help you make your home more sustainable.’’

Vickery, an Amherst resident and architectural historian, dreamed up the idea for the exhibit two years ago, inspired by a spate of architectural projects around the Pioneer Valley.

“Sustainability has really come to the forefront with abundant examples here,’’ she said. I wanted to spread the news about intelligent, elegant examples of green design in our local communities.’’

University Gallery director Loretta Yarlow jumped at Vickery’s proposal to curate the exhibition, which opens next Wednesday and continues through May 9. “We have this remarkable blossoming of green architectural projects in our community,’’ Yarlow said, “and the urgency of these issues is more timely than ever.’’

The exhibit showcases sustainable structures, ranging from large-scale university and commercial buildings to private residences and low-income housing designed by locally and nationally recognized architects. Highlighted with photographs, videos, models, and virtual tours, the projects feature natural and recycled materials and finishes and incorporate green elements such as geothermal heating and cooling, tight insulation systems, low-wattage lighting, green roofs, and water-saving devices.

“The exhibit is about bringing it home,’’ says architect Chris Riddle, of Amherst’s Kuhn Riddle Architects, which has several projects featured, including a group of houses built for Habitat for Humanity and the Amherst Cinema Complex. “It’s important to demonstrate that green architecture is happening not just in major metropolitan areas but in places like Western Massachusetts.’’

While Riddle designs all new projects with sustainability and conservation in mind, he has a keen interest in the existing building stock. “While it’s essential to construct new buildings well to minimize the impact on the landscape, we have to be aware that new buildings increase the load on the atmosphere,’’ he said. “The way to lessen the impact on the environment is attack the existing building stock, to make the buildings we already have greener, and that’s very possible to do.’’

To educate the public about sustainable options for existing architecture, the team created a “Green Lounge,’’ installed with eco-friendly furniture and samples of assorted green materials - carpets, countertops, and flooring - that people can touch. At computer stations, visitors can access information about locally available green resources - architects, builders, and suppliers of materials. “Visitors are invited to use this space to plan changes in their own built environment and lifestyles,’’ says Yarlow. Panel discussions, lectures, workshops are scheduled, along with a tour of private residences featured in the exhibition.

“When you look at the heart of the green movement, concern for global warming has recently given it a huge boost,’’ says Sigrid Miller Pollin, an architect whose own home is featured in the exhibit. “A whole lot of people are saying let’s build smaller, more efficiently throughout the world. This exhibit is going to heighten awareness on a local level for people outside the building industry; it is perfect timing.’’