Ian Ritchie, famed architect of Reina Sofia Museum of Modern Art in Madrid and the Dublin spire gave a talk at USC on issues of environmentalism and the role that Architects can play in this. Moderating the dialog was Frances Anderton, LA editor for Dwell magazine and host of DnA: Design and Architecture for KCRW.
Ironically, Ian Ritchie needed some persuading to attend the talk. His concerns that flying out to Los Angeles would produce many tons of carbon dioxide was eventually assuaged by the argument that those in the audience would take to heart his message of sustainability.
A Brief summary of the talk follows. The ideas are those of Mr. Ritchie's.
We are in a new age. An age of "unselfish architecture", which is to say architecture that looks beyond excess of design, and looks instead for bettering the planet.
He Structured this talk around five major questions, asked in response to five major ideas.
1. Heritage. How does our shared heritage shape action?
Part of the problem is that in the West, our traditions have separated us from nature, whereas other cultures have not had this problem.
2. Thought. What are we thinking about now?
Mind and nature are our two worlds. The artist and architect can dance between these two worlds. we must take into account the sustainability of our actions. To some extent, Ritchie feels the markets are to blame, in that we put their freedom above human equality. this destroys our sense of community and obligation to the planet. Freedom ought have a framework, namely a balance between individual freedom and community.
He mentions, rather hopefully, that it takes only 1 generation, our generation to really care and to turn back on the way things have become.
Here, he took a break and focused on his own method:
He uses poetry and language to describe and define the structure. Then draws the house in a few sparse lines. This prevents the drawings from being defined in his mind too early.
Back on topic, He moved on to the third point, behavior. How are we behaving as designers? Humans are slow and not very clever. This is how disasters can happen without our knowledge. The question is do we want sustainable growth or sustainable progress?
Most designers believe that they are doing good. However, the real good comes in reorienting our consumer society. Through research and development, we can create and invent new materials that allow us to create products that have multiple useful lifespans. Another part of this is in deciding whether a building is necessary. To illustrate this, out of 680 projects that have come to his firm, the group has produced approximately 40 buildings.
4. how should we design today? Innovate or die?
Reducing cost cannot become the sole reason for design. In architecture, the shift has to be focused on working with industry, towards accomplishing the goals sustainability. The paradigm shift comes through redefining our goals.
5. Intervening. How should we personally make things? Making things means doing things, which means intervening. In a sense, this means a moral obligation. The solution is to dream, because this can question reality. Designing with the moral dimensions in mind, then aesthetics become more significant.
So how can we apply this to design? The most major aspect of environmentalism is not in making or buying 'eco-friendly' things, it is in changing a mindset. If you want to have a truly eco-friendly home, this involves a great deal of removing extraneous things. Yes, this means simplifying things, and giving up a great deal of luxuries.
My favorite tidbit for design comes from his design process. Think about how you want your home to feel, and express that not in images and in words. Use them to capture the feeling that you want, not the look. In doing this, you'll be able to be more open-minded in how to encapsulate that feeling. After all, home is a feeling.