Harry Wakefield On The Year Sustainable Design Became Simply Design

Harry Wakefield of Mocoloco writes:

For me 2009 was the year that sustainable design and architecture became simply design and architecture. Sustainable materials and techniques are plentiful, so much so there is now very little that a designer and/or architect cannot create sustainably, given the opportunity to do so.

Oh, I wish it were true, but I don't believe it. He gave some examples:

Harry starts off with a stunner of a single family LEED Platinum house in Georgia that I missed on Jetson Green. I have not paid as much attention as I used to to this kind of thing; our problems are not going to be solved by building greener suburban houses when we have to reinvent how we live. Harry gets this too, and suggests that the bigger issue is building sustainable communities.


Martin Specht for The New York Times

Harry links to one of our posts on Vauban, but if one wants to discuss sustainable housing, it probably should have been on the front page.

In a similar vein, the Ovopur is a stunning piece of design, perhaps the prettiest water filter on the market. But it costs $ 689 with a $59 dollar cartridge. Can it be sustainable if it isn't even remotely affordable? I have defended a lot of expensive designs because they were beautiful and would last forever, as this Ovopur is and will, but there is a limit and I think the Ovopur crosses it.


Hippo roller

There are so many innovations in water storage, filtering and transport in the last few years that make the ovopur little more than a passing note, that are both sustainable and affordable.

And finally the Chevy Volt, where Harry shows an earlier, more aggressive version and Bob Lutz still doing the pitch. Harry says

It's a step in the right direction and opens up a world of new opportunities for rethinking not just cars, but how we move ourselves, literally and figuratively.

And what did it turn out to be?

A Chevy Cavalier with a battery, devoid of any design interest and reinventing nothing. Harry is right, that we have to rethink not just the car, but our entire transportation system. Does the Volt even start to do this?


copenhagen cycle chic

The Volt changes next to nothing. An example of real change in 2009 is the growing acceptance that bicycles are an integral part of our transportation systems and that cities like Montreal, Paris and New York are redesigning the transportation infrastructure to welcome them.

Harry says:

Sustainable materials and techniques are plentiful, so much so there is now very little that a designer and/or architect cannot create sustainably.

But not if we are designing the same old thing, the house where everyone has to drive to get a quart of milk, the hybrid car that still needs asphalt roads, concrete parking structures and $ 40,000 bucks to purchase. Sustainable design is about how we do things, not just what they are made of.