Heather Joseph – Executive Director, Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC)
Brook Mueller - Associate Professor, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs for the School of Architecture & Allied Arts, University of Oregon
Complexity and Contradiction in Green Architecture
A fundamental correspondence exists between the objectives of sustainable architecture and the creation of contemporary environments for research, learning and discovery. There is great interest in the green/sustainable architectural movement in making buildings that perform better – that conserve energy and water, that rely on natural means as much as possible for heating, cooling, lighting and ventilating – and that demonstrate this resourcefulness to its users. The building serves as a didactic tool, not merely a receptacle for learning but its demonstrable aid.
And yet there is something more we can aspire to in the construction of environments that are green and that meaningfully support and embody processes of learning, a dimension that is both difficult to quantify and necessary to a supportive, meaningful and rewarding architecture (one that sustains its ability to delight over many generations). Learning involves taking bearings of one’s territory and organizing its features into coherent and meaningful narratives. Learning also involves acts of extension, of pushing beyond the familiar and embracing the incongruous. Over time that which is immediate and that which at first seems more distant enter into the same space of our imagination.
Architecture at its finest operates similarly; the designer contrives settings that juxtapose the comfortably familiar and features at a remove and initially difficult to comprehend. There is no better example of this than the vast interior landscapes of Hans Scahroun’s Staatsbibliothek in Berlin (1967-78), where the immediacy of one’s environs – a desk, a lamp and a book – provide structure to one’s experience in association with an vast and enveloping, sky-like ceiling-scape that appears without limits. Architecture acts as a cabinet of wonders where one perceives boundaries (the figural outlines of a building’s exterior) and yet also gleans tantalizingly suggestions of that which lies beyond (light at a corner of unfamiliar source). This is the full promise of green architecture in resonance with the joys of learning: the resourceful deployment of finite elements enlisted in a striving for boundlessness.