Name: Meghna

Bio: Meghna Damle is a freelance architectural consultant working in the field of sustainable alternative transport in Los Angeles. Meghna holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Sydney.In the scope of her education she got a chance to study the various aspects where the principles of sustainability can be applied right from energy efficient buildings to social and community engagement based programs for the urban planners/designers. She also studied the famous slums of Dharavi , for finding sustainable water and sewage treatment alternatives as a part of her Master’s workshop project . While having worked in the field of green and ecological sound buildings in Australia she also devoted a few years to working in Mumbai in the area of Landscape Architecture. She is presently actively involved with Bikestation at Long Beach, Ca. Her role at Bikestation involves providing urban planning /design consultation for aiding cities , councils , Universities and Business Corporations to improve the Bike-infrastructure . She is always interested to hear and get involved in new ideas realating to the subject of green , ecological and sustainable designs in all aspects of the built environment .

Posts by meghna:

    Aesthetics & Sustainable Architecture

    March 7th, 2011

    “Even the most advanced advocates of ecological design are still struggling with ways to  integrate environmental technology, resource conservation and aesthetic content.  Without all three components in place there is little chance for a truly enduring  architecture. A major factor contributing to the longetivity of buildings that have survived  from the past is their fusion of nature and art. They had to be both earth friendly and  beautiful to be worthy of preservation in the first place.”

    James wines, in Green architecture

    “The question, then, is not whether the art of architecture carries any value within the  parameters of environmentalism, but whether environmental architecture can afford not  to value the art of architecture.

    Can such architecture be culturally, as well as environmentally, sustainable without it  ?

    Susannah Hagan in “Taking shape”

      The quotations try to understand whether sustainable architecture is visually appealing in any sense. Most architects are facing problems in integrating sustainability features into design but then it is necessary to integrate them in such a way that they form a part of the design feature and not stand out instead. And probably that is what a designer is for. Enhance the visual appearance or feature using his/her organising and creative skills. The problem probably is that most of the features like photovoltaic cells, wind turbines etc have developed only on the technological content. They stand out like an alien feature. The answer to all the questions is that yes they are worth keeping.
      Architecture is essentially an art and has aesthetic value.
      Aesthetics is the area of philosophy that concerns our appreciation of things as they affect them in a pleasing way. As such is it frequently focuses primarily on the fine arts, the products of which are traditionally designed to please our senses. However much of our aesthetic appreciation is not confined to art, but directed towards to world at large. We appreciate not only art, but also nature – broad horizons, fiery sunsets, and towering mountains. Such appreciation is the subject matter of environmental aesthetics. 1 It has been noticed that the vernacular architecture and local styles had a more of anaesthetic quality. Beauty is subject to place and time .Buildings can be judged on their beauty in reference to their region and era. A classic example is a comparison between the Greek temple of Parthenon and the Gothic churches.
      The visual acuity of the human eye allows it to see minute details at a very great distance in heavily illuminated conditions. Hence the Greek made use of the ample sunlight available to highlight the fluted columns .It slowly constituted an architectural style. But it would be a misfit if blindly applied in the highly overcast conditions of Western Europe. The low levels of illumination would make the fine flute detailing almost negligible giving the building a plain look. It is probably the reason why heavy detailing (mostly gargoyles, cornices. quiches) was provided on the gothic churches. Similarly if this was blindly applied to other places the detailing would have looked gaudy and loud. And the buildings have certainly been sustainable. The Greek temples or the Gothic churches have surely braved many a weather conditions and yet stand testimony the ideals of sustainability. Ironic as it may now seem, the liberal arts of grammar, rhetoric, and logic were regarded by the ancient Greeks as practical and useful skills - so useful, in fact, that they were seen as the indispensable preparation for citizenship, for participation in a free society. And it was in Greece, the same Greece, that science was “invented.” It is our generation that has seen the liberal arts confined largely to the liberal-arts colleges, both the smaller, traditional, independent undergraduate institutions and the colleges of liberal arts and sciences within universities.
      Perhaps we need to learn from our forebears of the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution and reformulate the liberal arts in ways that will nurture the development of freethinking men and women for the current age. The concept of sustainability could provide a new foundation for the liberal arts and sciences.2
      Probably in the Grecian era architecture was an arts discipline.   However the scenario has changed today. Both the discourse and practise of architecture are increasingly dominated by global itinerants. The products of architecture are made known through international journals. The international strength of the disciplinary culture of ‘architecture’, with a small number of ‘superstar’ architects working concurrently in different parts of the world, dominates local context. 3
      As also mentioned by Hassan Fathy , sometimes circumstances produce articles of beauty . For example in rural Egypt, timber was a scarce commodity. The hot and dry conditions made it almost next to impossible for any kind of tree growth .At least not the timber yielding ones. So whatever timber was available was used charily. Some innovative carpenter must have struck an idea to use leftover splinters by joining those using nails to design a beautiful door with the lattice work effect. Not only was it a product of innovation but also made perfect sense for the hot and dry conditions of Egypt. What more could be a sustainable idea to make a utilitarian product from the generated waste? Such precedents have been forgotten today and with mass – production, the people of Egypt have also started using the cheaper PVC equivalents. This shows how cultural and ethical values developed due to circumstances have been lost to the other architectural ‘modernist’ movements.
      Vernacular architecture possessed this beauty .Hence there is no question whether sustainable buildings are beautiful. They certainly are. But they have to be placed aptly referenced with time and place. It is probably the International style which imposes various standards or certain kinds of lifestyles on people. Buildings that are a product of the International style probably feel boring and mundane due to their standardised approach to design. Global application of air conditioning to all thermal control issues has overridden the use of some very beautiful architectural features like the mashrabiya (the net windows of Egypt), patios and porticos. It is clearly seen that the aesthetic qualities of the building are justified and rationalised because they are expressions of its environmental functions and the conditions of its production, as in nature.4 The key to architecture sustainability is to work with nature not against it. To understand sensitively, exploit, and simultaneously avoid damaging natural systems. 5
      In today’s day many a conscious efforts are being made to make a building sustainable. However these are done by applying mindless strategies, standardised by a few set of people on the other side of the planet.
      Sometimes such architecture is losing its soul because the process is lost in a viscous circle to make it sustainable. Unfortunately it is just not enough just to have good intentions or theoretical understanding. Good intention remains abstract until worked out in deeds and products. Sometimes, graceless actions bring a disharmony, which easily negates those good intentions, whereas artistic work roots them more fittingly in matter. Good ideals – however unfashionable – are essentially practical craving to be worked out practically, artistically, in the world.6
      This notion of beauty as an external matter rather than an intrinsic of the art of architecture is a concept that has been nurtured post the 1970’s.
      The Vitruvian triad has always put beauty in a…. condition of necessity, but it is not. It is something displaced ….Beauty really summarises aura and excess. (Eisenman , 1931)
      The quote indicates a contemporary architect voicing his opinions on the excesses of architectural beauty. This is the prevailing notion. An attempt has to be made to demonstrate the capacity of – and necessity for – environmental architecture to be as innovative intellectually and aesthetically as is technically.7
      Surely building needs to possess some kind of aesthetic value to be passed on to the future generations. Though the processes used to make them beautiful are failing. The lifeless buildings and environments which have become common in modern society are not merely dead, non- living, structures. They are what they are precisely because of the social processes by which they have been conceived, designed , built , and paid for .No matter how skilful the architects , no matter how gifted , no matter how profound their powers of design – if the process used is wrong , the design cannot save the project . 8
      As James Wines rightly puts it in book “Green architecture”, the fusion of nature in the past is what has aided the buildings to endure the ages and be considered worthy of preservation. If the fusion is applied in the right context there is no reason why the buildings of today can be visually appealing and truly sustainable. After all it has been demonstrated by people in earlier cases like the Greek & Roman Renaissance structures.
      Alexander.C ; The nature of order : an essay on the art of building and the nature of the universe , The centre for Environmental Structure , Berkely , 2002
      Hagan.S ; Taking Shape : a new contract between architecture and nature ,Architectural Press, 2001
      Day.C ; Places of the soul : architecture and environment design as a healing art ,Architectural Press 2004
      Terry J. Williamson, Antony Radford, Helen Bennetts; Understanding sustainable architecture, Spon press , London , 2003

    Carlson.A ; Aesthetics and the environment : the appreciation of nature , art and architecture , Routledge , 2000

    Second Level
    Creative Commons License photo credit: Benjamin Chun

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