I’m doing a lot of research for my studies on sustainability and it occurs to me that there is a lot of discussion and examination of what we as humans innately know but have managed to focus past our own instincts. And that is first, that the earth and all of its creatures (and that includes we humans) is a natural self-equalizing system and secondly, that humans need beauty to feel secure and well.
Technological developments have undoubtedly brought human kind many advantages and offered a more comfortable way of living for many on the planet. But, the way in which much of that advancement has been directed leaves us looking just past our biggest teacher; Mother Nature.
As a chemist, I appreciate science and with that am naturally intrigued and interested in technology and I’m certainly not alone. But what if we focus our technology passionate minds on investigating the mechanics of the earth and how we can be better leverage that to accommodate our needs and desires for comfort. If we can design to passively cool and heat in even the most aggressively hostile climates (which we have) consider what that really means for our dependence on refined fuels. The quote from architect, Renzo Piano on his design of The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, is a perfect example. "It's a building that breathes with nature". It doesn’t fight against the elements or conflict with its surroundings; there is a beautiful and intended harmony.1
And on the subject of beauty, as a designer I am very much in agreement with the sentiments of Cathleen McGuigan in her article ‘The Bad News about Green Architecture’ in that ”I hate green architecture”. While a fundamental supporter of sustainable building and design I too confess to not being a fan of the “typical” green building esthetics. Once more, I’m not of the opinion that green buildings and sustainable design needs to result in dull, boring or outright ugliness. (And thus my current vocation) And just what does this lack of visual appeal do for encouraging sustainable design? Well, nothing positive.
Humans are quite literally wired to need beauty. As in the article “Why We Love Beautiful Things” by Lance Hosey; “GREAT design, the management expert Gary Hamel once said, is like Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of pornography — ‘you know it when you see it.’ You want it, too: brain scan studies reveal that the sight of an attractive product can trigger the part of the motor cerebellum that governs hand movement. Instinctively, we reach out for attractive things; beauty literally moves us.”
And, what do human’s consider beautiful? Why nature, of course! The same article goes on to say “This could partly explain why window views of landscapes, research shows, can speed patient recovery in hospitals, aid learning in classrooms and spur productivity in the workplace.” And if you are an employer here is some motivation to make things more appealing. “In studies of call centers, for example, workers who could see the outdoors completed tasks 6 to 7 percent more efficiently than those who couldn’t, generating an annual savings of nearly $3,000 per employee.”3 Yes, beauty and nature actually positively affect the bottom line.
Figure 2- The Tree Hotel in a Swedish forest. “Green with Envy – Beautiful Sustainable Architecture “
If we can just let our minds go back to what we really already know, the future of our architectural designs, chosen esthetics and developed technology will be as close as reflections of nature. Is it really a coincidence that we physically reach out to beauty and that we find nature to be our guide on what beauty is? I think perhaps not. As I said at the beginning, our system of earth and its inhabitants, truly is a self-equalizing system.
As the Principal/Founder of PUREALCHEMY, Stephany Eaton has also followed her passion for art and design by studying extensively under internationally acclaimed artists in the field of the Decorative Arts. She is a recognized contributor to ASID, NKBA, and member of the USGBC MN. Her work has been published in the Star Tribune, Artful Living magazine, Minneapolis/St. Paul magazine, Midwest Home magazine and Spaces magazine
Eaton, an accredited LEED Green Associate, holds a degree in Chemistry from the University of Minnesota. She is also currently pursuing a Master of Design Studies in Sustainable Design from Boston Architectural College.