Why the maple key?

The maple key, the little, propeller-like seed that flies off of a maple tree, serves as the iconic symbol of Green Propeller Design. One would assume that due to its organic shape and vibrant green colour, the logo intentionally speaks to the company’s sustainable ethos. While this assumption isn’t far off, the maple key goes beyond being just a sustainability stamp of approval. 

I spoke with Marina Huissoon, founder of Green Propeller Design, about this very specific choice in a logo:

Maple keys will fly off a tree, flip themselves up, land on the ground, and make themselves roots to grow into a brand new tree. All of this is, from a botanical  standpoint, quite remarkable. What connects the maple key to Green Propeller Design is that this little maple key does this by virtue of its design. Not by technology. 

Red and green maple key hanging on a tree

The maple key, with its little seed pod and its great big leafy propeller, is designed to  fly through the air and rotate. So, when talking about buildings, if you design one appropriately, you’ll come out with a building that, although not able to fly through the air, will be able to do what a building is supposed to do. It can keep you comfortable in your indoor environment, keep heat in, keep the cold out in the winter, and give you sunlight and fresh air when you need it. You can do all of this without technology, but rather by being thoughtful about the way the building is designed. 

Here in Canada, the spring and the fall are actually very soft months from a climatic standpoint. You can make the building work quite satisfactorily in March, April, May, September, October, and sometimes even November, without turning on the air conditioner or furnace. So really, you don’t need the technology. You need a good building envelope – a good building design. Once you’ve designed for those temperate seasons and the building is comfortable, now you’ve reduced your need for technology to only the extremes of a hot summer and cold winter.

An easy example would be having opening windows. Over the last few decades in Canada, it was common to have no opening windows. Mechanical engineers liked this because they were able to then calculate exactly how much air was needed to recycle in all spaces because it was a fixed quantity. By opening the window, there are then a bunch of different variables about differential pressure between one side of the building and the other that the mechanical engineer then wouldn’t be able to manage. So from a mechanical standpoint, this was challenging. However, this assumes that the HVAC would run 24/7, 12 months of the year. By opening windows, we can allow fresh air in and then ventilation rates could be controlled by the user. It makes you, as a user, more comfortable, and it means the machine doesn’t have to turn on. This is a simple example of how a building can be more responsive than if you don’t think about it.

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Another example would be how much window area there is. A lot of office buildings you see have windows on all four sides and they have curtain wall glazing top to bottom. If you do that, it means that your building face doesn’t distinguish between a sunny day in the summer and a sunny winter day. The sun gets up in the east, goes around the south, and sets in the west and because of that, a south facing window (when the sun is out) is getting a lot of solar gain. The north facing window on the other hand, almost never gets any solar gain, except in the very edges of a deep winter. The south facade needs fewer  windows because it’s taking on a lot more solar gain. It’s going to be hot and glaring bright. So adding a lot of windows doesn’t make sense for a south facing wall. It does maybe make sense for a north facing wall because now you’ve got a lot of daylight coming in that’s not hot and so that will make the space more habitable. And the east and west, well the east isn’t that difficult to control but the west is very difficult because the sun is low in the sky and the heat build-up on a west facing wall is intense at the end of the afternoon. So, again, your inclination should be to put less glazing or triple glazing or sun shades or some kind of management of the amount of solar gain. When I see a building that doesn’t have that thoughtful response to different faces of a building then I know that somebody’s missed an opportunity.

When an architect is tasked with creating a structure, thoughtful sustainable design such as window usage and placement, can make the world of a difference when it comes to that building’s sustainability. This is why Green Propeller Design looks to the maple key as its inspiration, constantly asking: what can we do before we get into using complex technology? How far can we go by simply practicing thoughtful design?

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