Sustainability Unnoticed

While many articles have been written on the emergence of green design and the countless discussions of green materials, green systems, and green principles, it is far less often that we take a step back and look at those parameters which truly address what makes up the essence of green design.

For centuries, mankind has designed and built within his environment in many different ways. The less technologically advanced he’s been – the more he has had to depend upon understanding the local climate, geography, and environment for his well-being. As we have advanced our building methods and means, the quantity at which we construct buildings, and the intricacies of our living spaces – we have created the path that has led us to suddenly stop and take more notice of what all of that has done to our environment. We have come to realize that we have built without thought of our surroundings or landscape for far too long, and that has resulted in harm to both ourselves and our earth.

To address the fact that while we can talk at great lengths about sunflower laminates, bamboo floors, recycled glass, fluorescent lighting, solar panels, etc. – we constantly overlook the very basic and most simple principles which have guided some of the most wonderful architecture of our time. From the centuries old Indian tepees and Tongkonan rice barns to the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, Peter Zumthor, and Rudolph Schindler there are striking examples of those who have understood how to embrace our built landscape with much more than merely addressing their environment, but weaving their architecture into it.

The sun, the wind, indigenous materials, and life. To understand these things is to understand that which is truly more green than green because it relates to nature and not product; and when weaved in poetry with that which celebrates and enhances the lives of those who live, work, play, and dream within the space one has the gallant opportunity to create architecture.

The possibility to create something worth keeping on this planet for your lifetime and many lifetimes afterward.

You see, in addition to being green in our design parameters – the greenest thing of all we can do besides not building upon our planet at all is to build something we would ever dread removing from it.

From the sun we breathe life – and to attempt to cover all that it embodies would be foolhardy as it has been described and discussed in more volumes and for more years than we could possibly count. Suffice it to say though – when we understand the pattern and power of the sun as it relates to the site in which we live or choose to build (or when remodeling, where we choose to locate functions or re-orient our lives) – than we have begun to understand the most primary of green parameters. To understand our lives in combination with both daylight and darkness. To enliven our existence by warm sunlight and enigmatic shadow. It is within our homes, offices, shopping areas and public buildings that the treatment and appreciation for the sun and its relation to our structures can create the greatest of gifts, and bring harmony to our architecture. How should the daylight stream through your kitchen in the earliest of mornings? What should a day at your desk ‘feel’ like? Why does shopping amongst clouds and the shadows of trees always attract more customers than the ubiquitous and enclosed malls? For the sun brings life and happiness, and when we design in conjunction with that strength we begin to truly create space.

Understand the seasons in which we live. Understand the plants that bring life to our properties and the winds which bring us natural ventilation. Design with the comprehension of cross ventilation and you will not need the largest and ‘greenest’ air conditioner for you will be able to exist with minimal man-made ventilation and maximum coexistence. The overhangs of our buildings, the location of doors and windows, the peaks of our ceilings, and the placement of our functions all combine to either make this coexistence ‘exist’ or not.

Local materials are local for a reason. They are indigenous to the area and thus a reflection of our place. You won’t see brick structures lined up along the California coast because they do not belong both in material and in reflection. They do not speak to be one with their environment, and to transport a material long distances to a place it does not belong only further exemplifies this. Be simple instead of overly extravagant and you will be greener. If we paint a picture made of the greatest and most wonderful works of architecture of our time – we will notice that they do not bend to fashion or fad, they do not choose to mimic or mock, and they refrain from fancy or folly. The spaces that we can visit now and hopefully forever – are quite simply, simple. They are at once poetic and life altering. They bring joy and an inexplicable sense of balance when we are with them.

They are green – not by the reverence to a point system or glamour of publication – but because it is at the very root of the most basic architectural principles. Design within the realm of, and appreciation to your surroundings – of your environment - and you will have created something that will make this landscape we call the earth better by its very existence.