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Museums sprout 'green' architecture

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"There were concerns about walking the talk – if you're educating about the environment, you should be caring for it," she says. Fine art museums, she says, have caught on to the concept after being introduced to it by architects who had worked on green projects for the for-profit sector, which – with its focus on the bottom line – was faster to adopt energy-cutting construction.

That bottom line has become more attractive as green-building costs have fallen, explains Ashley Katz, spokeswoman for the US Green Building Council.

Rapid payback for ecodesign

A 2006 study by Davis Langdon, a construction consulting firm, found that building an environmentally friendly project costs, on average, as much as a traditional one. A Gold- or Platinum-ranked LEED-certified building costs more, Ms. Katz says, but the energy savings means that an organization should be able to recoup those extra costs within two years.

While green building may originally have had a reputation as the unbleached cotton T-shirt of the architecture world, that has changed.

"People used to think that if it's going to be green, it's going to be ugly. That's not at all the case," Brophy says. In fact, the architecture critic from the Cleveland Plain Dealer protested that the Grand Rapids Art Museum, designed by Los Angeles-based Workshop Hakomori Yantrasast (wHY), wasn't getting enough credit for its "sheer good looks."

It has, however, boosted the city's profile as an innovator in design. In fact, thanks in part to philanthropists such as Peter Wege, Grand Rapids is No. 5 on the list of US cities with the most LEED-certified buildings – tied with Pittsburgh and Washington.

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