Tuesday, April 13, 2010

An Aesthetic Divide: The Future of Green Design

As you may or may not know, I have a day job. Lately, it has been extra hectic in the office, and my blog has regretfully suffered. Particularly, I've been working on co-producing the fast approaching Legends of La Cienega design event (May 7-8,) with ELLE DECOR, which I look forward to sharing with you soon. We've created 2 days filled with kick-ass programming that will sure to entice design enthusiasts looking for something different. I leave it at.
Now, I'm excited to share my latest writing effort, "An Aesthetic Divide: The Future of Green Design," which by the way, has been published in this month's issue of Instinct Magazine. Here goes:
An Aesthetic Divide: The Future of Green Design

2010 marks a pivotal year calling for bi-partisanship in green design. Today, when you consider the movement for a fully integrated eco-conscious lifestyle, it becomes quite evident that the consumer marketplace consists of two opposing parties; just like in our nation’s politics we have the Left and we have the Right. On the Left, we see the majority of innovators for the green movement who understand the real concerns for creating sustainable, eco-friendly designs. Often modernistic in their approach, the Left adhere to the old adage that “form follows function,” meaning that their designs are more concerned with the utility of a product rather than the look of it. In other words, their designs are usually absent of stylistic elements intentionally incorporated for aesthetic purposes that go beyond functional requirements. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the Left’s aesthetic: linear, minimalistic, and often futuristic designs. These designers carry the torch of their forefathers: the Case Study architects of the 50’s and 60’s, and much of the designers who are praised at Design Within Reach stores nationwide. Products created by the Left comprise of the biggest bulk of green design out there right now, and as a mid-century modern enthusiast myself, I find it quite easy to integrate green products designed by these talented folks.

Now let’s dissect the Right. Truth is that most Americans simply do not like modern designs in their lives. The Right, AKA most Americans, go gaga for traditional d├ęcor with all of its ornate carved woods, crown moldings, excessive room dressing, and all sorts of other fandanglements. The Right may not be the creators for green design, but they are the majority of consumers in this country. Think about it, they live in places we lovingly refer to as the “flyover states,” but these Americans are the ones with the larger families, supersized homes, army-grade SUV’s and the insatiable desire to consume. Which brings me to my point, if we’re going to get serious about implementing green design into the fabric of our society we’re going to need to design with them in mind. We’ve got to realize that the whole notion of consuming less as a nation is too hard of a sale, not to mention idealistic for Americans, and that the Right will only incorporate green design in their lives when it’s packaged and marketed to them. Just to be clear, I’m not advocating designing for the Wal-Mart shopper in Boonville USA, quite on the contrary, I’m simply pointing out that appealing to an array of tastes should play more of a roll in green design today. The purchasing of most items is a superficial act in the first place, and those who have addressed the mainstream appeal of their green designs have been the most successful in converting the consumer to live in a greener way. Just to bring this closer to home for the big city dwellers who feel exempt to my point, right now in the city of Santa Monica there’s a pending city ordinance requiring solar panels to be installed in a way that is “least visible,” specifying that “there is no reason that the solar installation professional should not also consider aesthetic aspects when designing a system.” Whether it’s in town or country, it seems that green design is moving away from trending on the futuristic to becoming more inconspicuous for 2010 and onward. Simply put, the current agenda is to make green design look less like it’s green design.

In the growing industry of building green homes, there’s been a recent shift from designing prefab residences with pre-installed interiors to designing in the vernacular. Vernacular architecture is a method of construction that uses locally available resources and traditions to address local needs, evolving over time to reflect the environmental context in which it exists. For a better description, prominent builder to the stars (Jennifer Lopez, Kate Hudson, Simon Cowell) and founder of Finton Construction, John Finton, explains: “For years, green homes have been synonymous with small, stark, and cold spaces, and many have sacrificed certain comforts in the name of mother Earth. We’re realizing that solutions for designing green are found in the past […] The way that people built homes in ancient times were inherently green, and we’re taking cues from history to change the notions of what green design looks like.” Unlike the common forms we are all accustomed to in sustainable design, John Finton is building homes with more locally sourced materials, designing spaces that appeal to popular tastes, and keeping it all with a carbon conscious footprint. Currently, Finton is harvesting one of the first large-scale luxury projects of it’s kind seeking LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification, challenging the notion of building Green, by creating “a house that doesn’t look like it belongs on Mars” and redefining eco-conscious living without compromising luxury, comfort, and traditional architectural styles that appeal to a broader spectrum of the populace.

The last decade was in many respects the perfect storm for the establishment of the green design movement. Between concerns of our planet (land degradation, fresh water depletion, climate change, ocean acidification, deforestation,) not to mention the global economic catastrophes of the past few years, a sense of urgency forced us as a society to make some big changes in the way we live and consume. As the “Noughties” gave way to this second decade of the new millennium, 2010 became a pivotal shift for the green design movement as eco-conscious designers moved past selective tastes and aesthetic trends to normalize the look and acceptance for green. We’ve all witnessed green design gain great headway and even garner mainstream attention with consumers in the past decade, but at the same time we’ve also been experiencing the growing misuse of the term “green” on products that are mediocre at best. As we move forward in our quest, we’re becoming savvier about what products we call green, and at the same time we’re pushing designers to the blur the line for green design so that it’s more evenly integrated in the lives of both the Left and the Right. The future demands that the term “green design” not be separated from the rest of design in general. From here on out, I believe that we’re moving in a direction where all design in itself will become inherently green, and where designers will make green design look less like green design as we currently know it.

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