The Aesthetics of Green Design
The green design movement has been on the rise for years, as environmentally conscious architects, homebuyers, and municipal governments invest in energy efficient and renewable resources. However, many designers have not yet embraced this trend. Some architects argue that eco-friendly structures are not concerned with aesthetics and are often plain or ugly. While function does trump form in most green buildings, there is room for style and beauty in sustainability, too. Visual appeal can accompany ecological sensibility, if architects avoid creating a separation between aesthetics and efficiency.
In the upper echelons of architectural society, where Frank Gehry is often cited as the leader of modern building design, sustainability and beauty are considered to be conflicting concepts. Many believe that green buildings lack aesthetic allure because their purpose is strictly ecological and not artistic. In fact, there is a consensus in the elite fine art world that architects are creatively limited by eco-friendly design practices.
On the flip side of the argument, there are designers who consider buildings that lack any environmental standards to be ugly due to their impracticality and wastefulness. Some would categorize a Gehry building as an eyesore because it represents an almost antiquated opulence with its excessive use of new materials; individuals who are environmentally conscious may deem irreverence toward sustainability as unattractive.
Regardless of the various perspectives on aesthetics in green design, the main conflict resides in viewing ecological mindfulness and artistic expression as opposing forces. While beauty can be subjective, it is shortsighted to believe that there is little or no room for visual creativity and style in sustainable architecture. Environment-focused building guidelines can be a positive challenge for architects, encouraging them to be more innovative and progressive. Eco-driven developments can also help broaden cultural standards of what makes structures attractive.
Green design has already created beautiful residences, offices, and public spaces. In Grand Junction, Colorado, a 1918 federal building and courthouse was renovated under the LEED program, making it one of the most energy efficient government facilities and landmarks in the country. Designers were able to update the structure to meet net zero energy standards, while still maintaining its elegant Neo-Renaissance foundation and style. The renovation project protected a grand historic structure, which helped save materials and create less waste during construction.
The preservation of older buildings that are visually stunning can align aesthetic values with green design. Similarly, nature conservation efforts can promote sustainable development while protecting pristine wildlife. In Boulder, residents find splendor in the city’s open spaces and surrounding mountain parks. They know that the natural world is a wonderful source of inspiration. The human eye is already drawn to organic forms and elements, including circle shapes, colorful flowers, and sunshine. Therefore, caring about the environment and desiring beauty are not actually in opposition. Rather than assuming aesthetic appeal is unimportant or unrelated to sustainability, designers would benefit from reevaluating the connection between the two.
As Lance Hosey notes in his book, The Shape of Green, the vitality of a structure depends a lot on it being attractive: “Long-term value is impossible without sensory appeal, because if design doesn’t inspire, it’s destined to be discarded.” While climate change will continue to make the need for sustainability more prevalent, the likeability and longevity of an eco-friendly property depends on its ability to attract the eye. Ultimately, buildings need to be both stylistically attractive and practical or efficient if they want to be preserved.