Ferdinando Galli Bibiena. Design for One-Quarter of a Ceiling-elaborate Architectural Ornament in Perspective.
But what about aesthetics? Does sustainability change the face of design or only its content?
Many designers show little interest in this question, and some dismiss it altogether. “[The term] ‘green’ and sustainability have nothing to do with architecture,” architect Peter Eisenman said in a 2009 interview. Designers care about image, and the green movement, like it or not, has a reputation for being all substance and no style. In 2010, design critic Alice Rawsthorn sized up the Leaf, Nissan’s celebrated electric car: “It is as dull in style as most gas-guzzling clunkers.” Many believe sustainability deals exclusively with energy efficiency, carbon emissions, and material chemistry—issues that belong in a technical manual, not on a napkin sketch. Nuts and bolts are not exactly the stuff of every designer’s dreams. As a result, many consider great design and green design to be separate pursuits, and in fact much of what is touted as “green” is not easy on the eyes. The ugly truth about sustainable design is that much of it is ugly.
[F]orm affects performance, image influences endurance. A square wheel won’t work, regardless of how well it’s engineered. And even with the most sophisticated mechanical system, a building facing west is going to get hot. So shape affects efficiency but also longevity, which can depend almost completely on visual and emotional appeal. How long will something last if it fails to excite the spirit and stir the imagination? Picture two objects. One uses energy conservatively but is dull, unsightly, or uncomfortable. The other is gorgeous but a glutton for fossil fuels. Which is more likely to endure—the responsible one or the ravishing one?