In the past 50 years, humans have consumed more raw material and created more waste than ALL the previous generations of human history. The Environmental Protection Agency ranks construction materials as number one in toxicity, followed by electric services and vehicle bodies. Full embarrassing disclosure: building materials and magazines are the two biggest things filling landfills. I am the purveyor of both.
Life Cycle Assessment keeps score of a building material’s economic AND environmental impact over time. Embodied energy and product durability are important to sustainability. This is organic sustainability, as opposed to “tech sustainability” like composite materials whose life cycle, in many cases, is as yet unknown. The reparability of materials is also a measure of sustainability because if we can repair it, we won’t just throw it away.
“Organic sustainability,” the simple, sensible things we can do to reduce our traditional building industry’s impact on the environment, was on my mind this summer, while vacationing at the beach.
Architecture is always on my mind, but on vacation, I have more time to stop, study, and snap a photo with my phone. For example, this beach hut stopped me in my bare footed tracks and made me think about “architecture of its place.”
We hear a lot about “architecture of its time.” But do we appreciate “architecture of its place.” This beach hut is definitely of its place, constructed with drift wood, fish nets, lobster traps and beach rocks. Every building material in this abode came from a 50 foot radius of its site, much of it washed ashore from the great landfill we call the ocean. There was no LEED plaque on this building but it could easily boast, “This building is made with 100% recycled material.”
Architecture of its place is contextual. Whether a driftwood shanty on the beach or a new stone addition to an existing 19th century Romanesque church, “contextual” is, or should be, the watch word for traditionalists. “Contextual,” avoids the us- versus- them style wars between modernism and classicism.
I showed my beach hut photo to some architect friends via LinkedIn and asked them to “name this building,” Manuel Mergal of Cooper Robertson and Partners answered, “Frank Gehry’s house in Santa Barbara.” Sara O’Neil-Manion , Principal at O’Neil-Manion Architects P.A. exclaimed,” “Looks like Sea Ranch architects, Charles Moore era.”
Like a bathing suit at a black tie ball, out- of- context architecture is not polite. I’m not sure if my beach hut is modern or traditional but it’s definitely contextual and best lived in while wearing a bathing suit.