|SP301, Scott Peterman, 2005 (source)
I am rather confused by all of this talk of green in the architectural community. Architecture is intrinsically a wasteful process: transforming natural resources into a luxury good. While it is possible to mediate this waste, there is no eliminating it. At the most basic level, it takes stuff to make stuff, and unless we start conjuring buildings out of thin air, this fact will remain. LEED Certification, an initiative that promises environmental salvation in shades of Olympic gold, silver and bronze, is more successful as a marketing strategy than as an environmental toolkit. Implementing sustainable strategies at the scale of the building, while a responsible first step, should not be the end game.
In a 2008 MIT study on greenhouse gas emissions, it was estimated that eight and a half tons was the smallest possible carbon footprint for an American citizen (this lowest possible number reflected the lifestyle of a homeless person, sleeping in shelters and eating at soup kitchens). In contrast, the average global carbon footprint is estimated at four tons. The discrepancy between the numbers relates to all of the intangible infrastructure that we all pay into, such as the military, roads, policing, libraries, and other governmental services. The study ultimately concludes that in order to substantially lower our ecological footprints, we must implement environmental strategies not just at the scale of the individual, but at the scale of the nation (and optimally at a global scale). These same principles can and should be applied to architecture: legislation for mandatory sustainable building practices, directing growth away from ecologically sensitive areas into cities where infrastructure already exists and taxation of carbon heavy lifestyles, to name a few.
E. Sean Bailey
|Dollar Sign, Andy Warhol, 1981 (source)
‘Green is like a fat, very healthy cow lying still and unmoving, only capable of chewing the cud, regarding the world with stupid dull eyes’.
—Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art
Kandinsky hit the nail on the head well before his time: chasing the green can lead one to complacency. With postmodernism’s blurring of cultural hierarchy, designers who today—unlike those avant-gardes of previous decades who were reacting to the status quo—are actively pursuing commercial projects. While engaging as many people as possible is a great ambition, for better or for worse it may result in the cheapening of work in order for it to be easily understood. Perhaps producing loosely layered work which can be accessed by many, while embodying or alluding to complex ideas, can satisfy the two sides of this quickly narrowing gap.
Erandi de Silva
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