31 July 2006

on sustainability (briefly)

Inhabitat recently had an interesting interview with Paul Kephart (part 2 here), the executive director of Rana Creek Habitat Restoration and Living Architecture, the folks behind such green-roof icons of sustainable architecture as the Gap headquarters and the California Academy of Sciences. I must confess a certain anxiety over the term "sustainability," as it seems to have collapsed into a buzzword that too many architects and clients latch onto as some sort of empty badge of progressive merit, without truly understanding the larger issues at stake. Yet while I am certainly no expert on green architecture and sustainable technologies, I understand that sustainable practices must be integrated into the architectural status quo in order for the discipline to have any lasting relevance. It is in this respect -- the interesection of ecology and utopia -- that I value the work (and the comments) of Kephart and his firm.

The most informative aspect of the interview is Kephart's specificity with regard to sustainable methodology (again, in contrast to the mainstream, generic usage of the term). The integration of food production and waste treatment into the architecture of a building particularly seems like a no-brainer. I also appreciate the willingness to extend a building's ecological features didactically into the programmatic realm: the green roof of the California Academy of Sciences building becomes an actual exhibit, an occupiable, living habitat that functions both environmentally and educationally.

One tangential thought: Perhaps a crucial component of an ecologically utopian architecture would be to go beyond the technical details and processes that seem to preoccupy green architects, and to actually project into the future, imagining alternative uses (and abuses) of a building. Maybe designers should include such speculations as a way to grasp the full potential of these nascent practices. In a way, it reminds me of the contemporary architect's need to get over the excitement of flashy forms made possible with digital technologies and to figure out what this new technological wizardy can actually do for architecture and humanity as a whole.
And while I'm on the subject of sustainability, if you haven't seen Al Gore's documentary yet, do so.

link: "Interview: Paul Kephart of Rana Creek", from Inhabitat

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