Is there really a need to quantify "good architecture" as a measure for resource efficiency?


The other day we discussed how to measure architecture beyond it's performance. I spent some time looking into the definition of good architecture, and into finding rules and measures for good architecture. I came across a few good points in a discussion forum on archinect such as:

  • One has to feel good when being inside the building.
  • Good architecture is the feeling that you're in a cathedral, viewing something timeless, innovative, and inspiring."Good architecture has to encourage and return traditional aesthetic values.
  • Good architecture stimulates the senses.
  • One man's good architecture is another man's crime.
  • A good architecture is one which meets the needs of the entity that funds its existence.
These ten rules for architecture appropriately suggests that good architecture is highly subjective and the judgment of it depends (almost) entirely on the perspective of the viewer:
  1. Irrational judgments lead to new experience.
  2. Ideas do not necessarily proceed in logical order. They may set one off in unexpected directions, but an idea must necessarily be completed in the mind before the next one is formed.
  3. Successful architectures changes our understanding of the conventions by altering our perceptions.
  4. Perception is subjective.
  5. Architect may not necessarily understand their own architecture. Their perception is neither better nor worse than that of others.
  6. There are many elements involved in a work of architecture. The most important are the most obvious.
  7. Banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution.
  8. When architects learn their craft too well they make slick buildings.
  9. For each concept of architecture that becomes physical there are many variations that do not.
I am sure there are more somewhat quantifiable measures that can be listed here (additions are welcome!), but at this point I wonder if this should really be part of a best practice definition for resource efficient architecture. I came across a few good articles such as this one, in which James S. Russell, Adjunct Professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture Planning & Preservation, questions the future of LEED.

In his article, Russell goes into the building habits of different cultures. He claims that in Europe for example, successful buildings are often measured by their adaption of and experimentation with innovation. This however is traditionally not the case in the United States.
LEED may ask too little, but the extraordinary innovation that comes from Europe flows from cultural norms, energy costs, and tax treatment that allow designers to focus on a much longer time horizon than is common in America. “Europeans expect buildings to last a long time,” explained Arup’s Cousins, making higher upfront investments pay. Highly innovative buildings are considered “the right thing to do” in Europe, she says. In the U.S., “the talk immediately turns to legal risk and money.”


While American architects tend to pick out LEED strategies a la carte, European buildings push large-scale innovation very rapidly into the marketplace. The green features of Foster & Partners’ gold-rated 2006 HearstTower are pedestrian compared to the daylighting and natural-ventilation strategies the same architect used in the Commerzbank tower in Frankfurt almost 10 years earlier.
I therefore think that, rather than trying to quantify "good architecture" as a measure of resource efficient architecture, it would be both interesting and beneficial for us to explore why certain standards work better in some cultures than in others. And then, I think it would also be helpful to define how these green measures can be better incorporated in every day design. In the end, if we really want to achieve carbon neutrality for all new buildings by 2030 (in 20 years!), we have to change the way we look at good architecture entirely and include energy efficient design as one of the key measures for what we will grant "good architecture".

In a paper by Peter Morris called "What Does Green Really Cost"?, the author states that going green does not have to cost anything if the architect is aware of a few fundamental rules from the beginning.
The most common reason cited in studies for not incorporating green elements into building designs is the increase in first cost. People who are green averse are happy to relate anecdotes of premiums in excess of 30% to make their buildings green. These numbers are simply not, however, borne out by the facts, as evidenced by many studies of the cost of green building. Even though there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the cost question, it is clear from the substantial weight of evidence in the marketplace that reasonable levels of sustainable design can be incorporated into most building types at little or no additional cost.
I would be interesting to capture and formulate simple guidelines that will be useful for the architecture of the future in the battle against climate change.

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