Design is the mantra of our times. In architecture, celebrity designers such as Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano and Santiago Calatrava are international icons. Management guru Tom Peters began talking about the "design decade" several years ago; he says, "Design is the seat of the soul."41 In his view, every business needs to incorporate the essence of design thinking:
elegance with economy. With noted architect Michael Graves designing for Target and Martha Stewart for K-Mart, and stores such as Design Within Reach popping up everywhere, economical yet elegant design is in. Green design works in the same way. Getting high performance against a green rating system such as LEED doesn't have to be ugly or break the bank. One definition of superior design is "goodness of fit": how well does the final product function to meet its requirements?
Another definition from the 1970s that still works for good building design is "long life, low energy, loose fit." In his book, How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They Are Built, citing many historical examples, Stewart Brand argues eloquently that most buildings will go through many different uses (housing, office, retail, restaurant, etc.) during their lifetime.42 Therefore, designers should recognize that flexibility and durability are prime design virtues for green buildings. In Oslo in 2002, during an international green building conference, I found that many Norwegian buildings, especially low-rise, were built with no internal load-bearing walls, meaning that it was easy to reconfigure an office building into apartments and vice versa, because one didn't have to worry about the structural effects of moving walls around.
Modern office buildings, built essentially as "see-through" buildings with only a core and shell, when outfitted with daylighting design, under-floor air systems and simple movable wall partitions, also meet this criteria of loose fit. They can be reconfigured in a few days for new users and, over time, could become apartments, condos or hotels on various floors. The reverse is happening to old hotels in good business locations that are transformed into offices for start-up firms. What's needed now is for green building design to embrace other virtues such as long life and low energy.
Good design also implies an "economy of means," or using fewer resources to do the job by employing more elegant strategies. In this respect, passive solar design, natural ventilation, daylighting and other green design measures epitomize good design. Using natural energies such as sun, wind and rain, before importing resources from hundreds or thousands of miles away, is also the essence of good design.
The concept of "Design for Environment" (DfE) is beginning to permeate the design community. In DfE, companies examine the long-term environmental effects of sourcing, processing, distribution and eventually recycling their products. Looking forward to the day when all manufacturers will be forced to take back their products for recycling, DfE incorporates "design for disassembly" and recycling of all components into new products.
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