Pioneering a Green Tomorrow: The Nexus of Architecture Aesthetics & Sustainability
As urban landscapes continually evolve, a wave of conscious, sustainable design principles led by visionary architects is changing the way we envision our built environments. These professionals are not just constructing buildings but are sculpting eco-friendly legacies that stand testament to humanity’s potential to coexist harmoniously with nature.
Sustainable design is not merely a trend; it’s a paradigm shift. And one that is need with today’s climate crisis. Embracing eco-friendly practices, green architecture, and innovative technologies, today’s leading architects demonstrate that it’s possible to marry aesthetics with environmental responsibility. Their designs tell a story – one of adaptability, foresight, and a profound respect for the world we inhabit.
Jean Nouvel: Architectural Vision Meets Green Innovations
Jean Nouvel stands tall as a luminary in the realm of green architecture and sustainable design principles. Holding the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, Nouvel’s iconic contributions such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Philharmonie de Paris are sterling examples of his commitment to environmental architecture. His renowned sustainable architecture designs, including the avant-garde One Central Park and the National Museum of Qatar, flawlessly meld sustainable aesthetics and environmental integrity.
A trailblazer in the architectural world, Nouvel’s insights are as visionary as his designs. Speaking on sustainable building practices in a 2017 interview, he emphasized the dynamic nature of our world and the ensuing need for adaptability: “In this era of swift and sweeping changes, architects must reimagine our approach. With evolving paradigms and burgeoning technology, our designs should not only reflect the present but also withstand the tests of time.”
Nouvel has always been an innovator, so it’s not surprising that his advice is similarly forward-looking. In a 2017 interview, Nouvel encouraged architects to think about how their design might adapt to long-term changes: “More than ever, sustainability is at stake…We live in a world of constant and profound transformation, so architects have to radically rethink the way we build. New expressions need to reflect new paradigms and the rise of technology. We have to project our ideas far into the future, they need to stand the test of time.”
One Central Park embodies Nouvel’s consideration for long-term sustainability
The architectural landscape is undergoing a seismic shift, with a surge in sustainable resource and eco-friendly materials. The increasing adoption of the LEED building standard and a more extensive palette of green building materials give architects a plethora of options.
Nouvel’s words ring true; the projects we build today need to be able to adapt to the challenges of tomorrow. Everything from the locally surrounding ecosystems to the durability of materials needs to be considered. What will the natural environment look like in 5, 10, or even 50 years? How can our buildings withstand those changes? These are the questions that must be asked in order to create buildings that stay relevant.
William McDonough: Treat nature as a model
To many A&D professionals, William McDonough is synonymous with sustainable design. This sustainability trailblazer earned the first EPA Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award and a host of others, and he designed the acclaimed Ford Rouge plant, which still serves as a beacon of sustainability with an enormous living roof.
The Ford Rouge plant in Dearborn, MI boasts an approximately 454,000 square foot living roof
In 1992, McDonough created the Hannover Principles, a set of guidelines for sustainability. His eighth principle says: “Understand the limitations of design. No human creation lasts forever and design does not solve all problems. Those who create and plan should practice humility in the face of nature. Treat nature as a model and mentor, not as an inconvenience to be evaded or controlled.”
McDonough’s statement goes hand in hand with Nouvel’s. Since sustainable design ultimately draws inspiration from nature, it’s only natural that it should also emulate nature. When problems are encountered in the built environment, look to nature for potential solutions. Projects that work seamlessly with nature can give back to the surrounding environment. This approach has led to innovations like biomimicry and energy positive buildings that bring the built environment closer to nature than ever before.
Glenn Murcutt: Choose your materials mindfully
Glenn Murcutt is often called Australia’s most famous architect. The only Australian winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, Murcutt is a vocal proponent of sustainability. A quick look at his projects reveals a studied balance between design and nature. (Check out the biophilic Australian Islamic Centre.) His guiding ethos: to “touch the earth lightly.”
From Architecture AU: The Murcutt-designed Australian Islamic Centre is a sustainable masterstroke
Material selection is a large part of that ethos. As Murcutt puts it, “It’s about: where did that material come from? What damage has been done to the land in the excavation of that material? How will it be returned to the Earth eventually, or can it be reused, can it be recycled, can it be put together in a way that can be pulled apart and changed and reused?” For Murcutt, touching the earth lightly means considering the environmental impact of every design choice, not the least of which is choosing the right building materials.
Sustainable designers have been following Murcutt’s lead and investing in green materials like reclaimed wood and recycled steel. It’s important to be able to determine a material’s impact, which is why from sourcing to processing, we continually scrutinize our processes so as to touch the earth as lightly as possible.
Rob Harrison: Water is the new energy
Rob Harrison of Harrison Architects describes what he does as “lyrical sustainable design.” As a Passive House consultant with 25 years of green design experience, Harrison combines his expertise with a passion for making beautiful spaces, and it shows in his portfolio.
In an interview with The Atlantic, he shared his thoughts on why energy is so important: “Now, it’s all about energy. Soon, finding ways to participate in the water cycle more intelligently will become even more important than demand-side conservation of energy. Water is the new energy.”
Hydropower is already a massive energy source, but it still has lots of room to grow. In the future, expect to see more architects using hydropower and other forms of clean energy.
Scott Ceasar: Keep occupant comfort in mind
Increasingly, sustainable designers are thinking about not only a project’s environmental impact but also its effects on occupants. While sustainable design aims to create more eco-friendly spaces, it must also optimize the built environment for occupants.
Scott Ceasar is one architect who deeply understands the symbiosis between sustainability and occupant enjoyment. Ceasar, a principal at Cosentini Associates, has helped to break sustainability through to the mainstream with projects like 4 Times Square.
Whereas some designers view sustainability and occupant comfort as separate issues, Ceasar says they go hand in hand. He considers how a space’s sustainable design will affect occupants: “We select systems that will go the farthest toward reducing energy usage and increasing occupant comfort.”
For Ceasar, occupant comfort is especially crucial in the workplace. “Basically, when the workspace is designed for occupant comfort, people are much more productive,” he said in an interview. “That hits the bottom line more than energy efficiency because companies spend 75 to 80 percent of their operating budgets on their employees.” That’s not to say that designers can’t have the best of both worlds; sustainably designed offices have been shown to improve productivity. The takeaway: sustainability and occupant comfort need to seamlessly mesh.
Amanda Sturgeon: Imitate nature as much as possible
Earlier I mentioned an area of design called biomimicry, and this approach of architecturally imitating nature is being practiced of the some of the world’s best designers. From insect-inspired pavilions to theaters that take inspiration from cave formations, the results of biomimicry are astounding.
International Living Future Institute CEO Amanda Sturgeon says that biomimicry is one of the keys to great sustainable design. To her, the “perfect building” is one that “is really acting as if nature would” and that “has to be a building that really deeply connects people to nature.” Architecturally, this means a building that operates in a closed loop system. In terms of design, biomimicry can be used to create that essential connection to nature.
Google’s Quad Campus features an eye-catching multi-story reclaimed wood sculpture that exemplifies biomimicry
Imitating nature can be as simple as using wood to connect occupants with natural patterns or as complex as creating entire buildings that use nature-inspired structures. Utilizing biomimicry as a platform for creative inspiration will lead to more natural spaces that resonate with occupants and have a lasting impact.
Sustainable design continues to evolve with new technology and understanding. Architects and designers are thinking into the future and creating buildings based on a broader concept of sustainability; one that embraces more than improved energy performance. With building design having a profound impact on the environment, its occupants and the economy, A&Ds have a unique ability to impart real positive change.