thoughts on Friday... looking at the work
Friday offered an interesting glimpse at new building and the work of six architects. The Morphosis/Einhorn Yaffee Prescott building may just be the perfect example of the difference between green and something that approaches sustainability. The biggest gesture of all—that the people are in the ground (the “mat”) and the technology is in the windowless “bar” above ground—illustrates how the topic of sustainability was defined in physical terms for this project. There are concentric concerns in sustainability, and the social/human factors seem to have gotten short shrift here.
Greg Mella introduced the six architects with a discussion about how a CoD member suggested to him, as planning for this conference was getting under way, that sustainable design was an oxymoron. This surprised Greg, he said, because he’d been working with issues of sustainability for most of his career and understood them as intrinsically a part of the pursuit of quality architecture and good design. He talked about how sustainability was in the past better understood as inherently a part of architecture. Technology has freed architects to stop behaving with the region in mind and a backlash to the 70s solidified that trend. When efficiency was included after that time, the aim was to make the building look like a convention building… and those might look the same in Albuquerque or Buffalo. He noted that several of the last Pritzker winner, beginning with Renzo Piano in 1998, have always worked with sustainability integrated into their thinking.
Six architects—Peter Bohlin, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson; Ralph Johnson, Perkins & Will; Mark Reddington, LMN Architects; Joe Valerio, Valerio Dewalt Train; Dan Sibert, Norman Foster and Partners; and Andrew Whalley, Grimshaw—showed their work, and it there was some very inspiring material there. Peter Bohlin stood out for talking, again, about how people respond to buildings. LMN’s work on the convention center in Vancouver was notable in part for the discussion of the large team of consultants; today’s part of the conference will focus on process, which is so important to this discussion. Andrew Whalley’s presentation on the Eden Project and its biomimetic roots showed a rich design process and compelling results.
As we move into a discussion of process, I hope we might talk a bit about who is in the conversation. The American architecture profession is a monoculture that needs to be a prairie. Issues of sustainability in architecture and other disciplines require deep and complex conversations with a diverse set of voices. Diversity of gender, ethnicity, race, generation, discipline, and experience are all important. Such diversity would help architects be better partners and would, I think, elevate the public perception of architects (which would give them leverage towards legislation that would support better building design, greater density, and appropriate transportation solutions rather than miniscule gas rebates). And far more exciting than regulation, this diversity has the possibility to enrich the process in new ways that will stimulate innovation and design excellence.