Design for Sustainability

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In an age of prefab homes, remodels and additions, the built environment is constantly changing. Rarely does a building’s original structure endure these changes, resulting in waste and consumption of materials and energy. The few structures that do withstand demolition, however, tend to be historically and culturally significant. In being so, a building’s capacity to sustain these stressors is reflective of valuable design.

The “one size fits all” design aesthetic that emerged in the global age “tend(s) to overwhelm (and ignore) natural and cultural diversity, resulting in less variety” and a loss in cultural significance (McDonough 2002: 33). Thoughtless design perpetuates sprawl, uniformity and meaningless development. Without authenticity, or an intention for cultural development, the built environment looses its importance in the community.

With the environmental context, the materials used, renewable energy sourced and level of LEED certification obtained traditionally measure a building’s sustainability.  Although there is great importance in these aspects of green building, the element of design is considerably overlooked.  Beyond aesthetics, design is seldom considered a factor of sustainability. Original design, reflective of the community it was built for, establishes an intergenerational significance. Culturally significant buildings that are representative of the community, inevitably survive longer by being restored and reused. In contrast, insignificant design perpetuates uniformity and eventual demolition- enabling the cycle of waste and consumption. Authenticity is essential in determining a building’s value, duration of occupancy, lifespan and sustainability.

This longevity aids in the creation of culture, and lasts across generations. Failure to construct a building that is representative of its culture, will impact its ability to survive, resulting in demolition, abandonment, and reconstruction. Thus, thoughtful, original design is the ultimate factor in determining a building’s sustainability- its capacity for durability and reuse.

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