Like Cambria Bold from Re-Nest, I noticed a certain “despicable” entry on the Approval Matrix in this week’s New York magazine. For those unfamiliar with it, the Approval Matrix is the mag’s “deliberately oversimplified guide to who falls where on our taste hierarchies.” Basically, it’s an illustrated, pop culture “what's hot and what's not” grid that’s divided by lowbrow and highbrow items. Falling under the "not hot” spectrum this week is the Planet Green show, World’s Greenest Homes.

Says New York of the program: “Watch rich people show of their unattainable, but environmentally sound, vanity projects.”



Like Cambria, I haven’t seen World’s Greenest Homes. I also was curious as to why New York, a magazine that certainly doesn’t shy away from glossy materialism, was quick to bash it. Is it really like a LEED-certified Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous? Is Frank McKinney featured? Can a homeowner working on budget take away something from the show?

I watched a handful of clips and read a few episode synopses at the Planet Green — a Discovery-owned property that also broadcasts Living with Ed and Emeril Green — website. My feelings? 

First off, I think New York is missing the point. This is one of those escapist dream home shows. Like other programs in the genre, it’s not supposed to be rooted in practicality. Most of the homes that I saw in the clips are big (3,000 square-feet plus), architecturally stunning (eco eye candy, if you will), and reek of cash (without being "green monstrosities"). The point, as far as I can tell, is to make non-deep pocketed viewers go “ohhh and ahhh” not “I think we should do that to our home.” The show is selling a fantasy that just happens to be green. So what?

Here's the problem: World's Greenest Homes which, to be honest, isn't as entirely fluffy as it sounds, contradicts all the buzzwords associated with green building: small, efficient, pragmatic. Those who scoff at the show may think the obvious monetary green behind the featured green homes will discourage "normal" folks from taking action themselves. I'd like to think viewers are smarter than that. There are other green home improvement shows out there that cater to different niche interests and incomes. If a viewer is serious about installing a solar water heater on the cheap, for example, they'll watch something else. World's Greenest Homes isn't the end-all. It's not authoritative. It's not a threat. 

As long as there are people with money to build big, pretty houses, there are going to be people who like to look at the big, pretty homes built by people with money. It's a time-honored American tradition. The fact that these big, pretty houses are also green, in my opinion, is not a negative. These homes aren't the future of green building by any means but the fact that money is being invested in new green technologies (that can be later made more affordable) is exciting. I'm cool with it. 

Do you watch or have you seen World's Greenest Homes? Do you think it's harmless escapist entertainment (again, it's also quite informative and relevant) or an egregious back step for green building?

MNN homepage photo: Easement/Flickr

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

World's Greenest (and most ostentatious) Homes?
New York magazine thinks that the Planet Green series, World's Greenest Homes, is more peacocky than practical. What do you think?