by Laura Varsafsky, LEED AP
Whether you know sustainable architecture as the oldest and best building practices that have stood the test of time, the latest and greatest technological innovations, or simply ‘good design’, the rise in popularity of green-building third-party verification metrics, such as LEED, The Living Building Challenge, Net-Zero and Passive House (to name a few) has been astounding, and should be given a good amount of credit for bringing ‘green’ to the cultural mainstream. LEED certification has been especially popular in the commercial property and real estate market, in part due to its marketing value. In fact, LEED has become so popular it has created its own niche marketplace. Interestingly, NPR aired part I of a story yesterday on just this topic – Green Building: A Real Estate Revolution? – tune in this afternoon for Part II. As LEED becomes more of a household name, discussions on its popularity and validity are sprouting up. Earlier this spring, the blogosphere couldn’t get enough of starchitect Frank Gehry’s dramatic criticisms, and various follow-ups here & here…
I’m excited to see these metrics gain popularity and raise the bar in arenas such as energy usage and material selection, but a well designed building has something more to it that’s harder to define. There’s an age-old argument that I take stock in, posed by many architects over time (I was first enlightened during a presentation by architect Peter Bohlin, of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson). The argument goes something like a beautiful building is inherently a sustainable building because, in concept, a beautiful building will be reused again and again, instead of being replaced. In the world of sustainability, we know that reusing what is already there as the strategy which is most sustainable, resourceful, and holistic. Per this argument, designing a beautiful building is an important sustainable strategy. How many communities are fighting to preserve those strip malls? Convenient – yes, energy efficient – perhaps, but beautiful – no! This presents a challenge to metrics used in green-building third party verifications. If ‘beauty‘, (which is subjective and undefinable) is integral to a sustainable building, how can it exist in a system of definitions and verifications? Defining metrics for technology, data, and energy is one thing, but how can beauty be quantified and certified, or at the very least be encouraged and deemed important?
This school of thought has made its way into some green-building metrics, such as the Living Building Challenge. I encourage you to read more about it and share your thoughts with us. Should beauty be part of green-building metrics?