No. 274 . 08 February 2006 
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Sustainable Philosophy

by Jason McLennan

As the concept of sustainable design moves into the mainstream of architectural practice, it will evolve in how it is perceived and understood. Already the idea has moved in from the fringes of practice and has shed most of its original, inappropriate reputation as a fad. In light of its growing acceptance, sustainable design is now worthwhile fodder for philosophical speculation. — Editor

Sustainable Design is a design philosophy that seeks to maximize the quality of the built environment while minimizing or eliminating negative impact to the natural environment. This definition is useful because it highlights several important elements.

First, it establishes sustainable design as a philosophy. This is important because one of the earliest barriers arose because people viewed sustainable design as a stylistic endeavor, which it most emphatically is not. Sustainable design is an approach to design and not an aesthetic exercise and thus it can never go out of style or be discussed as a fad, as some critics have described it.

Second, because it offers a philosophical approach to design, the definition can be applied to any building type at any scale; indeed, it can transcend the design of buildings to include any object or project under design. There are no physical scale barriers to its adoption.

By "quality," we mean creating better buildings for people, better products for our use, and better places to inhabit. Early on, some people were concerned that the movement meant lowering quality and reducing comfort and well-being, when in fact the opposite was true. Sustainable design starts with the understanding that the purpose of our designs is to create physical artifacts that benefit people. This movement seeks to enhance that goal with a wider, more holistic approach.   >>>

This article is excerpted from The Philosophy of Sustainable Design by Jason F. McLennan, with permission of the publisher, Ecotone Publishing Company LLC.

 

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