Green challenges to Architecture

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If architecture is to become truly green, then a revolution of form and content—including radical changes in the entire look of architecture—is essential. This can only happen if those involved in the building arts create a fundamentally new language that is more contextually integrative, socially responsive, functionally ethical, and visually germane.

The potentialities of environmental science and technology must be creatively examined. Already there exists a rich reservoir of ideas from science and nature—cybernetics, virtual reality, biochemistry, hydrology, geology, and cosmology, to mention a few. Furthermore, just as the Industrial Revolution once generated change in many fields in the 19th century, so too the information revolution, with its model of integrated systems, serves as a conceptual model in the 21st century for a new approach to architecture and design in the broader environment.

As community governments begin to legislate state-of-the-art green standards, they must encourage appropriate artistic responses to such regional attributes as surrounding topography, indigenous vegetation, cultural history, and territorial idiosyncrasy. For instance, communities might encourage innovative fusions of architecture with landscape—where trees and plants become as much a part of architectural design as construction materials—so that buildings and their adjacent landscapes essentially merge. In such thinking, buildings are not interpreted as isolated objects, and the traditional barriers between inside and outside and between structure and site are challenged.

Likewise, green architecture in the 21st century has similar obligations to the psychological and physical needs of its inhabitants. Buildings are most successful when they respond to multiple senses—meaning that truly green design engages touch, smell, and hearing as well as sight in the design of buildings and public spaces.

Continuing advances in environmental technology have significantly strengthened the goals of sustainable architecture and city planning over the last decade. Yet many people consider the environmental crisis beyond their comprehension and control. Though technological solutions are necessary, they represent only one facet of the whole. Indeed, the transfer of responsibility to engineers and scientists threatens the social and psychological commitment needed for philosophical unity.

Increasing numbers of people seek new symbiotic relationships between their shelter and the broader ecology. This growing motivation is one of the most promising signs in the development of a consensus philosophy of the environment. As the environmental movement gains momentum, it underlines the anthropologist Margaret Mead’s observation:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

James Wines

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