Does Sustainability Have an Inherent Style?

When you think of sustainable architecture one of the first images that may come to your mind are the houses and other buildings from the 1960’s and 70’s that appear more to be diagrammatic designs than inspiring architecture, with their clerestory windows facing south and the giant trombe wall.  Or even the Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome house was to be be more efficient with energy consumption and use of construction materials.  The geodesic dome house also incorporated the ability to be constructed off-site which would decrease the time to construct it and better utilize materials and labor.

Prince Charles has done a commendable job of pursuing the establishment of sustainable architecture, but he has also argued that homes built with sustainability in mind should not necessarily be done with a modern aesthetic.  The argument he makes that so many other individuals who have an influence on the design of our built environment make is that the public demands a more traditional look to their homes.

But even the intent of most traditional styles of architecture was a truthful response to the culture and the local climate.  These styles derived from the beliefs of the people, the available building materials, and a strategy for protecting the people from the local climatic conditions.

Sustainable design needs to be thought of as more a verb than a noun.  Sustainability is the truthfulness in architecture that makes it absolutely unique to that place in which its built.  I don’t expect architecture that responds to the climatic conditions of a desert to look the same when it’s built in Libya as it’s built in Arizona.  Nor do I believe that a house in New England built in the early 21st century should look exactly the same as what early American colonists built in the late 17th century.

Sustainable architecture can be any style (the noun) you apply to it, but true sustainable architecture will respond to the place-specific and time-specific conditions (the verb) in which it’s built.


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