Showing Green – do you want carbon credits with that?

]Originally written in 2007]

Is it important to blatantly displace the world saving green features of architecture? Is this a technofetish trend that springs from the high-tech movement born out of archigram? Or is it an even deeper harkening back to Corb’s Machine for Living with earthships and LEED for Home?

Finding the cultural value of every photovoltaic panel, sedum meadow on a roof, wetland treatment system, and active curtain wall with articulated sunshade is a missing part of the sustainable architecture movement. Okay, yeah – being green is a cultural choice that has long resided in the granola crunchy fringe – but this is the mainstream, where fickle fads and politics get co-opted by hungry advertisers. We are at juncture where the ‘me too’ sheep of the profession are finding their inner green elf and applying the icons of sustainable design like the latest incarnation of PoMo EIFS.

Does the public care or even understand the radical impact of the architectural desire to save the hearth, home and health of the world? Since the state of pedestrian design sense is stuck in the neo-colonial and tuscan villa tracts punctuated by big box ducks and the rhythm of homogeneity of a starbucks on every block – is every innovation doomed to be viewed as ugly? Patrick Blanc’s living wall isn’t a Corinthian column with the stylized acanthus leaves crowning its fluted entasis – it is better. Bringing nature into the envelope realizes the primitive hut as an advanced modern building. We have achieved the romantic ideal of Ruskin through the mannerism of daylighting.

Educating the folks on the street that there is a populist political agenda to embrace along the positive economic advantages in carbon neutral design will take more then Martha Stewart nostalgia for the American dream of the good life. The world needs ticky-tacky boxes with wind turbines and composting toilets in every master suite. The end of the status quo bigger is better has arrived and the SUV driving McMansions will never be the same. Green living is coming to a mall near you.

I find the crystalline metallic blue sheen of photovoltaic panels to be sexier then the latest stereolithographic surfaces emanating from the halls of academia and the starchitect’s atelier. Form follows function as only fantasized about in Meis’ dreams when energy modeling meets the real world.

Corporate greenwashing has saturating the media landscape with blue skies and verdant meadows promising a better tomorrow. But the irony of their message is growing demand for real action and results from a public growing increasingly comfortable with the language of the environment and the reality of climate change. Kids are the ultimate advocates for their future, being aware of the wonders of a dragonfly and the sublime pleasures of running barefoot through the grass. Our children are natural born environmentalists. So what will happen when corporations really have to walk the walk of sustainability and cut food miles, mothball coal fired power plants, and remove toxins from their products? Soon, soccer moms and rednecks will demand renewable energy credits with their Big Macs and fries.

© 2007 Barry Lehrman


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