Architecture of Sustainability

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Value of Constraints

Constraints are good for design. We heard this message repeatedly, worded many ways, throughout the conference. And in many accents. “Great design is about challenge” said Andrew Whalley of Grimshaw architects.

We saw many examples of designs where sustainability concerns seem to enriched the design, but it’s obvious that this boon only comes with the kind of skill and commitment that has always produced superior design.

Green design principles are just another set of constraints, along with budgets, zoning envelopes, building codes, design conventions, existing context, public input – even client whims. At the risk of being a grouch, I submit that any of these constraints can be used as an excuse for inferior design. And they often are.

This conference was a great education in the intricate ways green consideration can affect design, with brilliant examples of their optimum effect. We heard often, too, that green architecture demands effective collaboration with consultants and client – requires the architect to listen to all parties. (If failing to listen is “a gender thing,” as Jeanne Gang so wittily proposed, it’s time for the guys to wise up and listen.)

Like any good design, good sustainable design demands informed, caring, diligent, and creative work.

-- John Morris Dixon, FAIA

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