If it’s Not Beautiful, it’s Not Sustainable?

Lucas Hamilton

Let’s face it – we don’t take care of things that are ugly. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, correct? Then why is it some things are universally agreed upon to be beautiful?

When we consider the buildings of the world which we all look to as a part of our shared heritage, I struggle to think of any that are not beautiful. Sometimes we get lucky and points germane are captured in a first draft. When talking about buildings in general we need to look to the Romans who were the definers of architecture.  For them three rules applied:

  • A building must be durable.
  • Serve the purposes of the people inside.
  • It must be aesthetically pleasing.

Today we may add a fourth requirement which is sustainability but as the title of this blog suggests, you won’t get sustainability without beauty. To understand beauty we must have a working knowledge of aesthetics. One of the things we know to be true is that aesthetics remain consistent. It is style that changes. Style is an expression of aesthetic principles based on a current philosophy, trend or societal influence.

A great example of this can be found in Chicago on the river with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe‘s IBM Tower.  Directly behind it is the Marina City complex which was designed by his protégé Bertrand Goldberg. Having a teacher and student design side-by-side doesn’t happen often so it is a fascinating place to observe the style change that took place from one generation to the next. It’s like we need to show our teachers and our parents that “we’ve heard, we’ve learned, and we’ve grown.”

As a society, we are seeing a shift in style once again.  Prior to the great recession, many people where building McMansion style homes which were the expression of more, more, more – look at what I have accomplished or gained. 

Now, we are seeing a maturity to the thinking – wouldn’t my life be easier if it were simpler? This is manifesting itself in a smaller footprint of our homes. We’re choosing darker colors to make our homes appear smaller and using coordinated palettes to bring the sense of harmony we seek.

I believe as a result we will create a generation of homes which will hold their aesthetic appeal much better than the recent phase.

Do you think that in 50 years anyone is going to be chaining themselves to a bulldozer to prevent a McMansion from being torn down?

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Designing Buildings with the Future in Mind

 

Glenn Jackson

Glenn Jackson

Glenn Jackson is Director, Corporate Marketing for CertainTeed Corporation

Part of the conversation regarding sustainable design is a move toward improving performance and addressing specific needs of the potential occupants of a particular space.

The building industry has historically designed buildings based only on the need to provide a place for people to live, or go to school or to heal when sick. 

Today, so much more is taken into consideration. Product manufacturers, the design community and even building owners are much more focused on asking “What problem are we trying to solve” or “What elements need to exist in a building to help address performance based criteria such as, learning, healing, innovating and working.

Creating unique spaces is becoming more the norm even within what we refer to as vertical markets or niche markets which meet the needs of a particular industry.  Standards for design or performance may exist within a vertical market such as educational facilities or healthcare facilities but each project will have specific needs driven by geographical and environmental conditions, uses for the spaces, aesthetics and building owner preferences.

Some of the areas most critical to building sustainable and performance-based structures are thermal and acoustical comfort which is not seen but does affect our physical comfort and wellbeing.  Visual comfort speaks to our need for natural light.  Innovations in glass products are revolutionizing the industry.  Indoor air quality is crucial in all buildings and systems, and products are available to address most concerns for creating clean indoor air.

In the end, the efforts made to design and build high-performance, sustainable, buildings with solution based systems will provide significant savings for the end users.

Quantifying the Value of Sustainability Going Forward

Lucas Hamilton

As we continue to improve energy performance, acoustics, comfort and aesthetics in our buildings, we are left with the challenge of quantifying the impact of these practices and how much they influence our quality of life.

This is a needed validation of sustainability – evaluating the effects that improving systems has on the occupants over a period of time.  While we are preaching the gospel to improve the performance of our buildings by including more natural light, better indoor air quality, improved acoustics and overall comfort are we quantifying how these changes improve employee or student performance in an improved environment?

For example, we have a need for connectivity. Older buildings were not built to provide ample natural light needed by people. Workers who sit in cubicles with no window tend to feel disconnected because they lack connectivity. Think about it when you enter a room, do you take a seat that enables you to look out a window?

Are we adequately documenting whether:

  • Students test scores improved because they could hear the teacher better?
  • Worker productivity increased because they had access to natural light?
  • Absenteeism decreased because of improved indoor air quality?

Some decision makers will argue that there are only two kinds of decisions: rational (based on facts) and irrational (not based on facts.) I would suggest they change these terms to fact-based and faith-based. In our private lives we make decisions based upon faith all the time and we are completely comfortable doing so. I think we need to develop more data to help less confident decision makers defend their faith- based decisions with some facts. If we are successful, eventually some of these decision makers will develop enough confidence to be truly innovative.

Are there other ‘quantifiables’ that we should consider to justify the decisions we are making now and in the future? I would like to hear your thoughts?

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Would People Use the Stairs More if They Were Nicer?

Lucas Hamilton

Think about the stairs in the average building.  They are simply stairwells -very claustrophobic – very unpleasant – very utilitarian.  In general, they are often not attractive spaces.

I recently visited ZGF Architects at the 12 West building in Portland, Oregon which is a LEED Platinum certified high-rise building. One of the really cool features of ZGF’s office space in this tower is the open stairs between floors. If you visit the firm’s web site you can actually see pictures of the stairs under the “interiors” tab.

When you were in these stairs you noticed they were beautiful.  They weren’t wells they were open to the spaces.  The vertical space of the stairs became a connector of the spaces in the building.  They were airy and bright, they also incorporated the environment of the floor in terms of the acoustics and appearance.  You saw people stopping and talking on the stairs.

It made me think ‘If the stairs were more appealing would people be willing to use them?’  The designers of this building thought so and they were right. 

One of the concepts put forward for reducing power consumption in buildings is rethinking how we can incorporate stairs between floors.  Not only does it save energy, it adds to the overall aesthetics in the design.  An unrelated benefit is that it increases the cardiovascular benefits for employees and visitors. As we consider how we might change the ways we think of and incorporate these spaces in our building, we must remain mindful of the science of air flows and how large columns of air behave. There must be an eloquent solution which combines form, function, and efficiency.

Have you seen any examples of the creative uses of stairs in buildings?

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation