reduce, reuse, recycle – 21st century design

"a change in the wind says i" - Pirates of the Caribbean - Curse of the Black Pearl

In our modern times where it seems every convention we’ve ever been comfortable with is in complete upheaval, it’s no wonder that our architecture, especially residential architecture, is changing as well. But what is it changing in to? Looking around we still see the same old bland McMansion monstrosities dotting our suburban landscape, billboards crying out for us to come tour the latest “model home” in the newest and most shiny development – deals deals deals. Just sign on the doted line.

Then you’ve got the whole “green” craze that is still chugging strong. “Energy Star” or LEED or “green building” or “recycled content”. It’s everywhere, but do any of us really know what it means? Is there any real value in these buzz word slogans? Is that 2500 sf suburban “energy star” rated home really going to save you any money in the life of it’s use? Is any of that “post consumer content” really making your life better enough to justify the extra 10 or 20 percent in price? I’m thinking it’s just more of the same with new packaging.

But if you look closer there is something new happening in modern and contemporary architecture and not just in the flashy custom market either. For years architects, and thereby clients, have subscribed to the “bigger is better” philosophy because for so long we simply had it really good. There were some bumps in the road, but for the most part land, material and labor costs were low and so we had a building boom that lasted more than 2 generations. Which is astounding. Times, though, have and are changing.

What are the times changing into, you ask? That is a simply not-so-simple answer. The basics are quality over quantity, substance over style, performance over panache. In short, there is a whole generation of client realizing that an architect is their friend, their advocate and a resource instead of a “legal necessity”. Homeowners and would-be homeowners are seeking out the advice and services of architects to build homes that are modest, efficient, responsible and, yes, even beautiful for a manageable price. Open up the latest architectural trade magazine and I bet you’ll stumble across more than a few homes recently designed and built well under the $250/sf range. Some maybe even closer to the $100/sf range that still offer quality, substance, performance and a little style as well.

Architects should be embracing this trend with both arms, chaining themselves to it, never to let go. Finally we’re waking up to the mistakes of our past – the complete wasteful abandon of consequence to our actions and the effect had on our cities, towns and natural surroundings. This is an exciting time in architecture where the typical methods of the past (like working WITH your environment rather than against it) are being utilized once again as basic design and building practice.

To sum up, we are reducing the amount of raw square footage once thought necessary in a typical living space; we are reusing more of our current building stock in more innovative ways; and we’ve developed strategies and techniques to recycle those buildings and materials that have outlived their usefulness. This is the heart and soul of a responsible architectural expression.

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3 thoughts on “reduce, reuse, recycle – 21st century design

  1. Thank you for this excellent post and summation of where architects should be directing their efforts. Many in the building industry aren’t seeing the changes in economy in any type of positive light (which is understandable, to an extent…), but in order to better serve our clients, society, and the built and natural environments, it’s essential to adapt with the changing climate and see opportunity within it.
    That said, they are all great points made in this post, and I appreciate the clarity with which you’ve expressed some very complex and critical issues we’re currently facing and will continue to do so in our collective future. Much appreciation!

    • Thank you, Lauren! I appreciate your appreciation. 😉 Maybe I’m just still young and naive, but I feel that if you can’t step outside of a problem and find opportunity in it then just move out of the way and make way for the other guy who can. The “doom and gloom” people out there really bug me.
      Cheers. 🙂

  2. I’m told we need to tell our children 100’s of times to say please and thank you before they get it and say it on their own. I am preaching the same sermon, but I suppose we’ll need to keep saying it until they get it and say it on their own. Great post.

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