Green office space

The world’s greenest building uses only 16 kilowatts of energy per square meter, a whole lot less than the 80 to 250 kilowatts so common among traditional office buildings. Energy Plus, a 70,000 square meter complex in the Gennevilliers area of Paris, looks a little bit like a dismantled Pentagon, reassembled in the wrong shape. Its arms jut at awkward angles to maximize roof space—holding more solar panels than any other building, the largest solar array in the world—and exposure to the sign, inviting daylight inside to offset use of energy-guzzling artificial lights.

The Seine’s water pumps through the building for cooling purposes—no air conditioner needed. Solar panels heat it, and high-test insulation helps set the correct temperature—all this is easier in Europe, where indoor temperatures are often only a fifteen degrees lower or higher than the outside (easier when the climate is neither Fargo nor Phoenix).

But what makes Energy Plus more a revolution in green building than a revision of it is that it will generate more energy than it uses—hence, the plus. The idea is that buildings, which currently consume about 40% of our energy and create nearly as much pollution, don’t have to just do less harm; they can actually do good. The green building of the future will be an energy plant, an air filter, a water reclamation stand…hopefully.

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, Energy Plus’s design team, have their hands in everything biggest and best; the venerable firm designed icons from the Al Sharq tower in Dubai to New York’s Freedom Tower. And like that tower—forever lauded but never built—Energy Plus has run into some roadblocks: namely, it has no tenants, and thus isn’t actually, um, in existence. Yes, the world’s greenest building is not yet built. SOM estimates the building will be 25% to 30% more expensive to build than traditional buildings; on the other hand, the energy bills promise to be low, low, low. Anybody in need of office space?