Last week Orange Loft was a sponsor at the AIA Chicago Professional Development Conference. While this is a great way to catch up on my continuing education points (as well as hang out at the ArchiOffice booth and talk with customers), I’m not surprised to have my world rocked during one of the keynote presentations. I don’t know how they do it, but the Chicago AIA chapter has consistently produced the finest professional development conferences (and I’ve been around the country at numerous other chapter conferences).
Back to my point, on day 2 the keynote presentation was made by William Reed. The title of his lecture was Changing Our Mental Model, or Can We Put Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again? Developing Whole System Thinking and Integrative Design. Yes, that’s about the longest title for a lecture I’ve ever seen – but it’s nothing compared to the 400 shocked faces I saw in the room after only the first 10 minutes.
Bill Reed has a rather stunning resume. An internationally recognized proponent and practitioner in sustainability and
regeneration, he is a principal in both the Integrative Design
Collaborative in Massachusetts and Regenesis Inc. in Santa Fe, New
Mexico, consulting organizations working to lift green building and
community planning into designs that are fully integrated and evolving
with living systems. His work centers on creating the framework for
and managing the integrative, whole-systems design process. The
objective: to improve the overall quality of the physical, social and
spiritual life of our living places and therefore, the planet. He is a
founding board member of the U.S. Green Building Council, has served on
the national executive committee of the AIA Committee on the
Environment, and chairs the ANSI Committee on Whole System Integration
(Integrative Design and Construction Process). He has taught and
lectured throughout North America.
Bill started his lecture by asking how many architects in the room were working on sustainable design. This was a loaded question since everything and everyone is going “green” these days. A considerable number of hands were raised in the air. Bill responded that noone is doing sustainable architecture and the term itself is untenable. He then went on to quote Confucius who said the following about language, “If
language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if
what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains
undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; …
Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters
Essentially, what Bill was calling for is to stop saying we’re doing sustainable architecture since we’re not. At best, we’re trying to create sustainable architecture, or we’re working towards “green” architecture, but if we use the wrong words, or abuse the language, we and the public will be deluding ourselves.
OK, so you think that’s just semantics. Bill took the next hour to prove to us how misguided we were. One example he gave was when his firm was hired by the Brattleboro Coop in Brattleboro Vermont to help them with the design of a sustainable grocery store. I suppose his client was just looking for the run of the mill review of the project to make sure it was “green.” Bill described how he proceeded to look at some of the produce in their existing store (blueberries from Chile, strawberries from California, Apples from Washington, etc). His proposal demonstrated the value of bringing the food cycle back home to meet a
truly local and long term sustainable approach to nutrition and local
economy. Rather than looking at your site as your plat of survey, you should look at the larger area around you. His recommendation was to revitalize the farm community for many miles around the grocery store so that local farmers would be able to provide the varied produce required by their customers. This was a shocking and poignant response. It made so much sense but was definately not what the client was looking for. Later in the lecture, Bill told us how it took almost two years for the Coop to recognize the significance of this concept and they began to work with the local farm community.
Anyway – there is so much more to tell but instead, I’ll encourage you to seek out lectures when Bill is in your area – or hope he writes a book.