The design bias

I don't think sustainability is a design aesthetic, any more than having electricity in your building, or telephones, or anything else. It's an ethic, a basic consideration that we have to have as architects designing buildings. (…) in 10 years we're not going to talk about sustainability anymore, because it's going to be built into the core processes of architecture.

This quote from Robert Stern circled through the web recently. The notion that sustainability will cease to be an issue within a decade is quite debatable but Stern raises an interesting argument. He is correct to claim that sustainability is not a design aesthetic. In fact, it is not even a design problem as much as it is an industrial one.
Some of the greatest energy impacts that can be quantified within the process of building are the outcome of the techniques applied during its construction. Also, just as important as the efficiency of the materials applied, is the energy footprint of their fabrication. And this poses a problem for us, architects, because it is still very hard to get precise data regarding these issues. But what is worse is that, for the most part, we are not really paying attention to any of this. We are instead focusing on sustainability as a design problem.
The reasons behind this lie in the foundations of our education. The central part of architectural learning relies in the notion of architecture as a process of design. We are formatted to solve problems through design. That is what makes us most distinctive from engineers. But, when regarding sustainability, this might pose a problem of thinking. We must begin to address this issue through quantifiable numbers. It is not something we can solve through formal creativity alone.
When facing these problems at an urban scale, the implications seem even more daunting. REX’s recent proposal for the LOW2NO urban development competition in Helsinki presents an interesting effort to deal with these issues in their full complexity. It is an extraordinarily ambitious project with great theoretical repercussions. It attempts to deal with the phenomena of city dispersion considering its implications to a wider notion of ecological balance. Joshua Prince-Ramus reminds us that building energy efficiency is a relatively small factor when compared to the carbon intensive lifestyles that accompany mass suburban migration. A problem that needs to be addressed beyond design, looking into the very decision making processes that guide the management of resources and the distribution of buildings and infrastructures in the territory.

Trying to connect

About a couple of months ago Bob Borson referenced me in one of his ever motivating posts as he contemplated the blogger’s million dollar question: How big is your blog? I’ve been wanting to give Bob some feedback on that topic but my life being crazy as it usually is, this time with a car crash in the middle to make things even more complicated, it’s been hard to get my thoughts together to write what I wanted to say. So, a bit late but still, here goes…

Bob started his blog – Life of an Architect – in January this year. If you haven’t visited it yet, you should. There’s some really great stuff going on there, not only because he is a truly diligent and prolific blogger but also because, as it turns out, he has very interesting friends as well. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying those guest articles although I would never make Bob’s mistake of letting my own wife write a post. Oho…

Anyways, just recently one of Bob’s friends, Derek Leavitt, wrote this interesting set of Rules for an Architect’s blog. It kind of goes full circle with his original post since writing a successful blog is about finding balance between what attracts readers and what makes the experience fulfilling to yourself. So, most likely quoting Mr. Miyagi, a personal blog is all about finding your own balance. And therefore the original question then becomes something like…

How big is big enough?

I started my own blog in December 2003. Now that’s a long time because, as we all know, blog years are like dog years. This blog has gone through many mutations and I’ve certainly made all sorts of mistakes in the process. But a couple of years ago I was making it big for an architecture-related blog, hitting the thousand daily visitors mark. Yep, those were the days because, for several different reasons, nowadays that average has been cut in half. And that’s okay.
Let me be honest about it. I’m not saying I’m happier for that fact. What I mean is that I’ve been trying to find that sense of balance, to find the reasons that drive my need to write a personal blog. And to me it has become a mixture of interrogations: who I’m writing to and who I’m trying to connect with. And the latter part of this equation really is a great measure of what makes a successful blog. Who are you reaching through the web? Who is tracking what you write and what feedback are you getting from it?
That has become a far more important measure of success than the single number of visitors one gets on a daily basis. And so I have come to realize that I’m trying to reach people who share similar interrogations, on architecture and life in general, and although I’ve been loosing ground on my home base of readers, the world map has been lighting up on my Analytics account. And it feels great.

As I face this new stage of my blogging experience, going through the set of rules outlined by Derek certainly makes a lot of sense to me. At the core of it lies the importance of humanizing the writing process. Simply put: be honest, be different. Share what you know. Share what you don’t know. A personal blog doesn’t have to be about yourself but it should be about your own vision, your doubts and your ideas. That’s what makes it universal, no matter where you are.
And if you stick to it, and keep learning and growing, people will come from all parts of the world. And in this nebulous landscape of the digital web, you will matter.

We love Denmark

You don’t need to travel to Shanghai to get a glimpse of the Danish Pavilion with this incredible time-lapse rollercoaster. When you’re finished, don’t forget to watch the UK Pavilion as well: here and here.

Art on the wall

Fragments of otherwise dormant urban fabric are brought to life by these eccentric figures. Sam3 (Spain), Os Gémeos (Brasil) and Blu (Italy) passed through Lisbon and left some inspired paintings on the walls of a couple of abandoned buildings. There are many of images to see on the web, just check the following links to get the idea: Stick2Target, Unurth, L (Flickr). Via Horizonte Artificial, People and Place.

Next: Collective Housing in progress

NEXT: Collective Housing in Progress is the latest book from a+t architecture publishers.

As the long established correlation between urban growth and economic development is becoming increasingly questioned, in the aftermath of a global economic crisis, architecture is looking into the processes that determine the ever changing built environment with renewed interest. Every act of architecture carries the possibility of transformation of its external reality. In this unfolding debate, collective housing once again claims its central role in the balance between the autonomous building and the world that surrounds it.
NEXT: Collective Housing in Progress, questions the programmatic complexity of contemporary architecture in its utmost urban implications. Although remarkably different in their approach, the projects now featured in this book carry the strong attempt to preserve the social qualities of architecture in a mutating economic environment. Variables like density, energy efficiency, transportation costs, new structures of technology and communications, all come into play in a conscious effort to redefine public life within the city. These are projects that seek to refill and regenerate the urban landscape, proposing programmatic indetermination, integration of social and cultural spaces, flexibility of uses and, ultimately, a call to intensity beyond density.
NEXT is the latest book from a+t’s Density series, featuring 30 European and American projects designed by 29 different young architectural practices, fully illustrated, detailed and analyzed through technical drawings and schematic diagrams. Visit a+t for additional information on this and other publications.

Atelier Data + MOOV: Forwarding Dallas, Dallas, United States, 2009-2012.

REX: Low2No, Helsinki, Finland, 2009.

Modostudio: Kilpailuohjelma, Lohja, Finland, 2008.

AllesWirdGut: Herzberg Public Housing, Vienna, Austria, 2007-2010.

Atelier Zündel & Cristea: Rue de Charenton Residences, Paris, France, 2007-2010.