Thursday, March 5, 2009

Part Two - Architecture for the 21st Century

Architects have long held that building for permanence is the ultimate objective of well designed architecture throughout history. Combining permanence with the historic maxim of architectural priorities in design is (from the Greco-Roman era) - first commodity, then firmness and lastly delight. Combining permanence with the prioritization of commodity, firmness and then delight, provides a value system to develop architecture for the 21st century. To adopt this value system is to reject recycling of the building in total as being too costly and unsustainable over the long run. This type of design recycling has been tried in the last century and is practiced in some areas of our culture.

For society to embrace this value system (Lets call it permanent-functionality or PF architecture), however, constrains future generations to accept, and adapt the future long-lasting PF architectural entity to the ever evolving needs/values of future users. I note that buildings are regularly designed and built for their recycle-ability (steel buildings); they are not often regarded as architectural accomplishments and usually outlast their usefulness, without being recycled.

With proper foresight and planning, architectural interiors can be adaptable and recycled to maintain functionality into the future and the exterior “edifice” designed to embody the best that the current generation has to offer. As such it should warrant the respect of “properly educated” future generations.

It behooves us, to reexamine our approach to permanent-firmness as we witnessed the destruction of the World Trade Center by terrorist misuse of a plane type that did not exist when the building was built. There is also the environmental impact of unforeseen weather change challenging the design criteria for the 21st Century.

At the present time our culture does not demonstrate high standards of ethical behavior. (This is an understatement if ever there was one.)
However, the future it seems to me mandates an “energy ethic” in all matters of design activity. The only way to apply this ethic is for the culture to demand it, mandating that the client require it and that the architect equip themselves to provide it. Ethics used to be, until about 1970, an integral part of professional behavior standards.

We must culturally value energy as the primary yardstick of our present and future wellbeing, and mandate its conservation in front of, but not in place of other environmental concerns and for its own (energy’s) sake as well as the future of our culture. Energy is, after all, the only thing that sustains us and without it in plentiful quantity, we would quickly regress into tribal cultures.

I have determined that valuing energy by its cost per se is not useful in accomplishing energy conservation, as cost rates are understandably designed to promote consumption not conservation. That is not to say that energy cost issues like demand charges, applied during periods of high energy usage, should not be considered. They should be addressed in the design process to the benefit of all.

PF Architecture should strive to define itself in the permanent-delight arena through a reexamination of the historic principles of good-great architectural design and a disciplined adaptation and commitment to the use of contemporary permanent materials to create cultural value.

Based on previous experience, PF architecture is accomplishable within the traditional range of building construction budgets, by applying priority thinking in the design process and the results would embody the highest aspirations of our culture.

This brings us to part three of the blog - A series of my professional experiences that have a bearing on creating PF architecture for the 21st Century.

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