All You Need Is Love: A Valentine to Steve Mouzon and Kaid Benfield

The Original Green/Screen capture

Kaid Benfield of the NRDC Switchboard and Steve Mouzon of the Original Green are the two writers that have most influenced my thinking and writing on planning, urban design and architectural preservation over the last few years. So it is particularly heartwarming to see a Valentines Day love-fest going on at both of their sites; Perhaps I shall turn it into a ménage à trois.

In his Original Green thesis, Mouzon cites four attributes that buildings need if they are going to last: they must be lovable, durable, flexible and frugal. He starts, controversially, with lovable:

Any serious conversation about sustainable buildings must begin with the issue of Lovability. If a building cannot be loved, then it is likely to be demolished and carted off to the landfill in only a generation or two.... Buildings continue to be demolished for no other reason except that they cannot be loved.

Kaid, who writes less about buildings and more about places, notes: "I think I’ve always felt this intuitively" and continues:

Steve prefers to link sustainability with “lovable” rather than “beautiful,” because he acknowledges that there is a cold sort of beauty that can be hard to love, and ultimately it is lovability that will lead to the care and retention of buildings. I’m adding “places” to buildings, but I am confident that Steve would agree with my addition.

Lovable Places: Paris/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

In his Valentine yesterday, Steve notes that lovability is a tough sell to his fellow professionals, but that that it resonates with everyone else.

Many of my colleagues who are classicists have long insisted on beauty as the highest standard, whereas many of my colleagues who are Modernists have long disputed that stand, preferring grittier or more industrial aesthetics while claiming that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We'll never get agreement between these two groups on beauty. Both of these groups recoil, however, at a term so unprofessional as "lovable." "That's barely a step above 'cute,' or even worse, 'precious,'" they might say. But ask any non-architect, and they have no problem at all talking about lovable buildings and places, and they'd really like it if we were to design more of them.

I first learned about Steve Mouzon in 2008; I was involved in the local architectural preservation movement, but could never quite explain why the buildings we were fighting to save were so important, particularly to environmentalists and the green building movement. Reading Mouzon was a slap-to-the-head that changed the way I thought and talked about preservation; when I became President of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario in 2010 I used it in lectures across the Province and you could just see lights going on as people clicked into it.

© Terry Thomas Building by Weber Thompson

It also changed the way I think about sustainable design and green building; why the new buildings that I like the most operate like old buildings, short on gizmo green and long on natural systems. (Terry Thomas Building, see)

Kaid Benfield has also profoundly influenced my thinking and my writing, with his position that The Greenest Building is the one that's in the right context. It is a position that has been reinforced by study after study in the last few years: that where you live and work matters more than what you live in; that location matters. (see my favourite post of 2010 from Kaid)

Kaid concludes, bringing the themes together:

In what possible definition of “sustainability” can a place fit if it is not literally sustained? In order to sustain something, we need to care. And we don’t have enough people who will care just because the consumption or pollution numbers argue that they should. We are so much better positioned if they, and we, can also do so out of love.

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

My long suffering wife will be the first to attest that I am not an overly emotional person; you can probably guess what she got for Valentines day. I also used to be like Steve's modernist professional colleagues, and would " recoil at a term so unprofessional as "lovable."" But I want to send a belated Valentine out to Steve, who has taught me so much about how to love buildings, and to Kaid, who has taught me so much about how to love places.

Read Steve Mouzon at The Original Green and Kaid Benfield at NRDC Switchboard.

Tags: Green Building | Preservation | Urban Life