Not your father's green design - hedonistic sustainability wins hearts and minds

Not your father's green design - hedonistic sustainability wins hearts and minds

Tomorrow is Earth Day. Organizer of the first such occasion in 1970, Denis Hayes, refers to it as “the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year.” A resounding success, then, in raising awareness of our ecological responsibilities, then, right? Depends who you ask.

Its origins were found in the political fallout of the nuclear arms race and the alarm call raised by Rachel Carlson’s Silent Spring. Not until recently, though, did “environmentalist” begin to lose its sting as a pejorative label in many leadership circles, and the planned March for Science this weekend suggests a disconnect between those charged with making sense of data and those who are supposed to set policy based on it.

Following the exuberance of the 60s, the gas crisis of 1973 cast a pall over a generation. Environmentalism came to represent austerity and defiance of the conspicuous consumption culture that developed as a reaction to the rigors of the Great Depression. Case in point: the cliche of the bearded hippie on a hillside preaching the gospel of composting toilets.

Today, the merits of eco-centric consciousness and green design have become somewhat ingrained into the culture in ways we’re often not aware of. Architecture leads the charge, and in subtle, sneaky, even subversive ways. Form follows function, and the large southern-exposure windows of a mountain resort gain admirers for their integration into the setting and the beautiful light they admit into a cozy space. That they facilitate passive solar heating might not get as much notice.

Now there are architects like Bjarke Ingels promoting his concept of hedonistic sustainability, where users of design don’t have to give up luxury, enjoyment or fun to reap benefits on behalf of the planet. The “eco” instead becomes so much whimsical extravagance. In a time when science discovers it now has to reallocate resources from its core subject matter to focus on winning the hearts and minds of everyday people, a ski slope is built on top of a clean power plant as a gift to the city. In Ingel’s design, sustainability invites community participation, and it doesn’t have to be a drag. Not even a little bit. Check out his TED talk and find out how it can be an act of play. And if you have access to Netflix, watch the episode about Ingels in the very excellent documentary series Abstract – The Art of Design. Happy Earth Day! Have fun.

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