Sustainability is:
a balance in environmental, social, and economic consideration of all components of the world's living and non-living systems. To fit into this balance, humanity must achieve resilience, continued learning, and consciousness of our relationship with the Earth.

Monday, November 21, 2011

My Attempt to Understand the Role of Architecture in a Sustainable Future

Personal Background

My interest in architecture began in middle school. I would cut out magazine clippings of houses and buildings and collect them in a small folder to look at with my mother. During classes, when I should have been paying attention, I found myself doodling houses and obscure buildings instead (albeit very impractical and unrealistic ones). More so than my friends, my state of mind was extremely sensitive to the spaces I inhabited. As I continued through junior-high and high school my interest in architecture often waned due to dull course work and a lack of passion. Because of this, I began to pursue my interests elsewhere. Acting upon a necessity to discover my academic interests, I initially went to college for subjects other than architecture. However, I immediately felt out of place. I asked myself questions such as “Why should I waste my time studying superficial topics?” (these various fields were in fact very respectable, but my mindset at the time said otherwise) or “Shouldn’t I be studying architecture instead?” Through architecture I would be able to express my creativity as well as fulfill a more meaningful purpose. Through architecture I could attempt to leave this world a better place than when I arrived. After several weeks of confusion and an epiphany of sorts, I decided to transfer schools and dedicate my foreseeable future to pursue a degree in architecture at Miami University.

After completing my first year of school at a new campus, I was certain that I had found an outlet to freely express my creativity. However, I still longed for a greater purpose in my work. I once again began to question my path, asking myself questions such as, “How can I embed my architectural education with the ‘purpose’ I am searching for?” The answer came in the form of a minor in what roughly translates to Sustainability Studies. Once my courses began to address environmental issues, I started to question the sustainability of my own lifestyle and to think of my projects within a more general context. Sure, the design is visually interesting, but how can it be built responsibly? My answers to these questions are still limited, but by spending time focusing on larger sustainability issues I hope to bring valuable perspective into future conversations.

The Home and the Role of an Architect

By examining the function of a house more thoroughly, it immediately becomes clear that this universal structure serves many more purposes than simply providing shelter. The home is a space where one’s day begins and ends, and it provides a backdrop for the events of our daily lives. Whether you rent a small apartment in the city or own an extensive ranch in the country, “home” is an environment where inner thoughts and desires can be freely and outwardly manifested. If the importance of “home” is to be properly respected, architects must design spaces that appropriately respond to their environments and their owners’ individual needs.

Over the past few decades, though, architects have been tasked with an even greater responsibility: to design not only for the needs of the inhabitants, but for the earth’s as well. If humans are to continue to develop, we must to minimize our individual impacts upon the planet. In my opinion, housing is an area of development that has the potential to address these issues in an incredibly tangible and transparent fashion; by designing sustainably we give others the opportunity to physically experience conscious, beneficial change with their senses. Fortunately, thanks to an increasing number of environmentally conscious architects and designers, this is experience is often quite beautiful.

Alas, there are still countless challenges ahead. It becomes more difficult every day to accommodate the needs of man and earth - two clients which often have conflicting interests (in most cases, the one offering monetary reward will take precedence). If we truly intend to change the course of human history on earth, this must change. Only by approaching this issue through modifying the lifestyle of the individual will we see success. Being in the architectural education process, I find this very exciting. The way I see it, this challenge presents those in the field of architecture with a unique platform from which to revolutionize daily life. If the spaces in which we dwell really are so important, maybe they can influence us to think differently in other aspects of life as well. Would you rethink your daily fossil fuel use if your home barely used any itself? Would you consider a solar water heater if your hot showers were just as comforting?

How I’ve Changed

It has been several years since I decided to transfer to architecture school and pursue a career in architecture. Although I have gained much valuable knowledge  back on campus, my experiences here in Iceland have drastically shifted my views. Instead of focusing on how to accurately draft a floor plan or adjust lighting in a computerized rendering, I have spent the past few months increasing my personal awareness of the larger issues humans all face. At first, I was unsure if this broad and seemingly abstract style of education would prove potent enough to effect my work and life back in school. However, as the weeks passed I more fully realized the importance of this newfound knowledge. Back at school, for example,  I was given scattered lectures warning of our grim future. These were motivating, but I did not feel armed with enough knowledge to craft potential solutions. The only realm in which I felt able to create change was the studio environment (which, as far as environments go, is very conceptual and quite far from the "real world"). Through taking classes and participating in an Icelandic community over the past few months, I now have a much greater understanding of “the big picture” and more fully realize architecture’s role within this larger (largest as far as humans are concerned) context. I am very confident that I have the knowledge and resources available to not only educate my friends and family at home, but to alter my own lifestyle and create a smaller carbon footprint. In the academic world, I hope to express myself through sustainable building design and set the stage for individuals to make decisions which are not only economically and socially viable, but which help nourish the Earth in return for it’s hospitality.

Jordan Frazin

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