Design

Published on May 5th, 2008 | by Philip Proefrock

10

Green Architecture Versus Great Architecture

Leopold Center - Kubala Washatko Architects Last week, in writing about this year’s AIA Committe on the Environment’s COTE Top Ten winners, representing the best “examples of sustainable architecture and green design solutions that protect and enhance the environment,” I asked “Are COTE Winners Too Much of the Same?” While I am certain I’m not alone in that viewpoint, I’ve come across some other perspectives on that question.

One of the jurors from the panel that selected this year’s COTE Top Ten wrote about her experience and some of the things that she saw in the jury. And the question of great architecture versus green architecture was also raised in the AIA weekly newsletter this past week as well. The COTE Top Ten showcases some very attractive buildings with some serious green building credentials (LEED Gold and Platinum buildings and a building that claims “carbon neutral opearations”, to name a few). But the larger question seems to be how much green building and good building design are, or can be, connected.

Architect Rebecca Henn is a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan and was also the “student” member of this year’s jury. She shared some of her thoughts about the COTE jury process at BuildingGreen. My lament that the winners were all too much of the same type seemed to be echoed in her comments, as well:

“Which was a larger accomplishment: a big federal agency who regularly produces dim bland boxes now getting a more sustainable and beautiful building, or yet another LEED Platinum-rated environmental center (yawn…)?

“What about the inspirational design done for a project that faced budget cuts (twice) and a hurricane, but still stuck to its sustainable goals? The house we wanted oh-so-badly to give an award to had 4,000 square feet for two people. The big box store that could have been an exemplar of sustainability was, frankly, really ugly. The history of environmental design has enough poor aesthetic examples for people to use in repudiation of environmental goals. We refused to feed that fire.”

Good architecture is not easy, but the balance of design and sustainability needs to take both into consideration. This was the direction of another relevant article. While not directly addressing the issue of this year’s COTE Top Ten, Michael Crosbie writes about The Duty to Beauty in the AIArchitect weekly newsletter. In his article, he quotes James Wines, from a recent visit to the University of Hartford architecture program:

“An aesthetically inferior work of architecture,” says Wines, “no matter how environmentally correct in terms of green technology, cannot justify the investment, enhance a client’s public image, or qualify as sustainable design, simply because people will never want to keep a boring building around.” Great architecture and green architecture are one and the same—you cannot have one without the other.

With the current bandwagon of green building rolling along, everyone is looking to get on board. In trade publications now, page after page of ads for every imaginable product in the construction realm are all trying to wrap themselves in the green mantle. Too often, green is being used as the determining factor in a project in place of good design, rather than melding the two and achieving something that surpasses the easy trade-offs and creates something truly worthy.

As Rebecca Henn writes: “Sustainability needs to be seen in our profession less as a technological fix reserved for the spec writers and engineers. Instead, it should be seen as our responsibility to society in exchange for the state-licensed monopoly we enjoy. If we don’t hold both beauty and sustainability as equal cultural commitments, then we might as well hand over our licenses and call ourselves aesthetic consultants.”

Image Source: Aldo Leopold Legacy Center via AIA COTE Top Ten




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  • A KNESAL

    “Great architecture and green architecture are one and the same—you cannot have one without the other.”

    ?……..Clearly we can, and have historically. It’s just ‘Clearly’ now and always has been irresponsible.

    4000 sq. ft. for two carbon units? I don’t care how ‘Green’ or carefully or beautifully designed that space is, that kind of irresponsibility negates all the positives.

  • A KNESAL

    “Great architecture and green architecture are one and the same—you cannot have one without the other.”

    ?……..Clearly we can, and have historically. It’s just ‘Clearly’ now and always has been irresponsible.

    4000 sq. ft. for two carbon units? I don’t care how ‘Green’ or carefully or beautifully designed that space is, that kind of irresponsibility negates all the positives.

  • http://www.theurbandesert.com Joe Kovesdy

    As the demand for LEED-certified residences increases, so will the aesthetic compromises. With our sluggish housing market, I think architects hired to design green buildings will have more time to create beautiful designs we can admire. In Phoenix, for example, we are seeing new buildings which show a balance between good design and sustainability.

  • http://www.theurbandesert.com Joe Kovesdy

    As the demand for LEED-certified residences increases, so will the aesthetic compromises. With our sluggish housing market, I think architects hired to design green buildings will have more time to create beautiful designs we can admire. In Phoenix, for example, we are seeing new buildings which show a balance between good design and sustainability.

  • http://areuready4design@netzero.com Dorthea Montaine

    Emilio Ambasz designs Great Architecture that is Green from its soul. He manages to use his dedication to ecologically sensitive architecture to enhance his designs, and gives us visions that are as beautiful as they are practical. He proves Great and Green can achieve what has been all but lost in our “modern” world.

    To design “green” buildings should be as second nature to an adequate architect as designing buildings that are structurally sound. Only when an architect uses environmental responses to inform a design to transcend the ordinary do we experience Great Architecture – sadly very seldom in today’s world.

    All Great Architecture in the past has been created in response to a need greater than a single person’s ego, such as glorifying God, celebrating community, etc. Today, we have a need to fulfill – survival – that green buildings can help us satisfy. Hopefully, using this inspirational source will give our age a direction to, once again, create architecture that transcends the ordinary, without resorting to garish tricks or distortions that insult neighborhoods and intellects. Hopefully, soon we will be proposing buildings that make us glad to be alive and promote our ability to survive on this planet.

    It can be done. Emilio Ambasz is doing it.

  • http://areuready4design@netzero.com Dorthea Montaine

    For decades, architects have been searching for a theme, style or identity. In many respects, we have failed because we lacked a concept, a base from which to gain inspiration to transcend the ordinary.

    Oh, experimenting with the limits of what can be reated with new materials has given photoraphers something to capture for architectural magazines, but has desecrated the landscape for the ordinary person. Yes, it is “awesome” in its own distorted way, like an off-color joke makes us laugh even as we blush, but cannot produce iner pride and sense of fulfillment that genuinely Great Architecture gives.

    Now we have something to help us inspire greatness: environmental balance and a tribute to nature. I so hope architects of today can give our cities creations of beauty that function to give us hope for a future on this planet!

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