It’s Not Easy Being Green

sus·tain·able adjective \sə-ˈstā-nə-bəl\

1) able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed; 2) involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources; 3) able to last or continue for a long time

These three definitions should apply to our built environment. Perhaps the most relevant to the preservation of a healthy planet is #3. Because of the incredibly heavy carbon footprint they make, buildings must last. Therefore, we must make places that can survive as well as worth keeping. The current trends, however, are typified by approaches like this. What we get are buildings that are intended as creations of an individual, but that become the expression of that sole individual. Too often, we actually get a cliche. Principles have been ignored or discarded. The places created are difficult to embrace. Could anyone truly accept that these designs are for the betterment of our entire earth experience? The word “our” is used, because everything built is part of our experience, whether we like it or not. Many “green” buildings are designed to not look like buildings at all. They are seemingly intended to replicated organic patterns found in diverse places on the ground. Is this the way forward? Our guess is that few people want to live or work in a treehouse, especially made out of metal. Fun for a short while–sure, but these places will not mean much to us after the fad has ended; thereforew, they will not endure. What we really want is to live, work and play in places that delight us, that thrill us, that make us want to stay. This is in contrast to the shock and awe of these earthship structures, which may be similar to the sensation we get from an apartment fire or an eight-car pileup. The current trend in green architecture seems to make us feel we should be ashamed at who we are and what we have done. “Walking lightly on the ground,” an often-used phrase, seems to sum up this mindset. We need to ask ourselves: For what purpose do we design and construct a building? It would seem rather silly to construct expensive edifices purely for fun. Buildings have a purpose. The building and development process, in America and elsewhere, is seen as a terribly destructive process (consult Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”). Maybe this occurs in the mind of so many because there is so much of the process that is so terribly thoughtless. But we cannot see all development as atrocious. If our feelings toward human endeavor is remorseful and guilt-ridden,  we will hesitate to make bold and beautiful statements. It’s likely that an unobtrusive, “excuse-me” approach to architecture and construction will yield a rather marginal product, which, in turn, will create unsusatianable environments. It is only when humankind is seen as a species that has the physical, intellectual and spiritual potential to raise itself above its carnal and self-absorbed nature that it will be able to create sublime works that both inspire us and deserve our respect.

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