Lovable Buildings

Any serious conversation about sustainable buildings must begin with the issue of Lovability. If a building cannot be loved, then it is likely to be demolished and carted off to the landfill in only a generation or two. All of the embodied energy of its materials is lost (if they are not recycled.) And all of the future energy savings are lost, too. Buildings continue to be demolished for no other reason except that they cannot be loved. Even an architectural landmark as celebrated as the Boston City Hall is in danger of this fate because only an architect could love it. It is not possible for a building to be considered sustainable when its parts reach a landfill in a generation or two.

The popular green community is now advocating that every building should have a plan for its eventual demolition and recycling. At first, this seems like an honorable goal. But in reality, it is an admission of the inability to build in a lovable fashion. Our ancestors once built for the ages, and the best of their buildings could last for a thousand years or more. Even the everyday buildings lining every street regularly lasted for centuries. And they lasted because they could be loved.

Many ask today how it is possible to know what other people love, and some are even offended at the proposition that we might know what future generations might love. This suspicion is built upon the notion that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and is predicated upon the model of architecture as fashion.

But architecture can do so much better than that. Because that which is the most intensely of our time today is also the most quickly out-of-date tomorrow. If we focus on what it means to be human rather than just what is popular in this moment, then it is clear that some things have resonated with humans throughout the ages. These include shapes that reflect the basic arrangement of the human body, which has a head, a body, and feet, or a cap, a shaft, and a base. The human body also is arranged horizontally with equal members on either side, at least externally, although our internal organs are arranged simply to do their jobs properly. And the exterior symmetry can be very relaxed, like when someone is sprawled out on a couch, or may be very rigid, like a soldier standing at attention.

Humans also resonate both with proportions found in the human body, and with a set of mathematical proportions that are both rational (1:1, 4:3, 3:2, etc.) and irrational (the square root of 2, the Golden Mean, etc.) Humans also resonate with natural laws, such as the law of gravity. In other words, they don’t just expect for things to stand up, but also to look like they are capable of standing up. Nobody except an architect wants to walk into a building built so thinly that it appears to be in imminent danger of collapse.

So while it is not possible to guess what architectural fashions might be like in 20 or 30 human generations (or not even next year, for that matter,) it most certainly is possible to stack the deck in our favor by building things that incorporate patterns that reflect timeless aspects of our humanity. Doing so extends the efficiency of what we build today into the distant future




Resources for Lovable BuildingsLovable_Resc.html