Friday, August 18, 2006

Immoral Architecture?

I recently had a conversation with an architect about carbon dioxide emissions and architecture. He recommended an informative site entitled Architecture 2030 that challenges architects to take an active role in combating global warming.

Our discussion covered all the normal topics until one point. He explained that architects have no choice but to design green architecture. I replied that the design community does have a choice, although continuing current practices would harm the environment. He responded that choosing to design without green concessions is “immoral.”

Now, the word “immoral” is getting thrown around a lot lately. However, this is the first time I have ever heard him say it. His word selection interested me… he did not use unprofessional, irresponsible, unwise, or even stupid. (Perhaps he could have used “unethical,” thus stripping some typical religious connotations, but this may have lessened its impact on some people.) Nevertheless, “immoral” goes beyond unprofessional, irresponsible, unwise, and stupid; it involves consciously choosing to perform an action defined as wrong. This is a tricky area: individual moral standards vary within our society. I would guess that most architects have no problems with their design processes. Is the continual design of energy-eating buildings an immoral act?

If an architect accepts that global warming is occurring and it will create problems for future generations, then concessions must be made to significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions in constructed designs. When doctors discover that a patient is dying during a procedure, doctors have an obligation to change their actions in order to save this individual. However, the “patient” in architecture is fuzzy. Architects’ primary obligation is to paying clients. However, architects also have a responsibility to the building occupants through regulations such as ADA and building codes. But what about the population that will never enter the building? Since their buildings spew toxins into the outside world, architects should consider the environment.

Who is responsible for advocating green design? Perhaps the government should pass stricter regulations. Obviously, architecture schools must advocate green design. However, professors cannot assign eco-friendly projects to designers outside of the school walls.

To me, the responsibility primarily falls on architecture firms. However, this may lead to finger pointing. The architect says that the client will not pay for green features. Architects are doing their clients’ bidding. In addition, interns and young designers believe they have no power in the firm. However, at the risk of sounding cynical, many baby-boomer architects may not see the full effects of current design practices in their lifetimes. Older architects are passing the buck onto the next generation while young designers follow their orders and adopt their practices.

The previously-mentioned individual also believes that his age bracket (baby boomers) will be referred to as “The Generation That Knew, But Did Nothing.” Hopefully, the younger generations will not receive even worse titles. Should we consider designing energy-wasting structures to be an immoral act?

How else do we describe the blatant disregard for the environment and its implication on future generations?

How else do we gather the amount of attention that this topic deserves?

How else do we make a turnaround in architectural practice?


Blogger Bradley said...

You mention building occupants and city residents affected by the environmental considerations (or lack of) in a building... note the increasing removal of smoking in public spaces, bars, restaurants and even entire office/institutional campuses because of adverse health affects on the general public.

These environments are required to be healthy for its occupants - does this and other legislation set a precedent for mandating healthier buildings? I believe that there is a personal responsibility of designers to consider the environment, but I also believe that legislated green-design is inevitable (municipalities are already requiring govt. buildings to have 'green' elements).

Designers should stop being reactionary and strive to be ahead of this curve.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Lester S. Moore said...

There will be no choice but to be "green." Global warming is really not the issue however. It's a bi-product of a glut of cheap energy. As humans consume this cheap energy at excelerated rates the energy ceases to be cheap. Buildings will either be "green" or they will not be able function as a human habitat without abundant cheap energy.

Regardless, the choice is not a moral issue. Morality only matters when there is a choice. Human survial depends on design that is harmonious with nature and uses natural systems advantageously. Quite frankly, if we continue to build glass boxes, skyscrapers, sprawl, highways(I don't care if your car is a hybrid or not), and use energy expensive materials in our buildings we are doomed. Perhaps we have the choice now, but it's not a moral choice, it's a choice between survival or slow death.

Of course, I don't have time or space to go into the pressures of over population, food shortages, and problems with alternative sources of energy. The best we can do is to ease ourselves into a different way of life, and if deciding to go "green" now is the best path, then so be it.

L. S. Moore

7:35 PM  

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