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Guest Blog Post by Travis Moe & Ruby Laurelle Staley
January 9, 2013
Just over a decade into the twenty-first century, the defining concept of our time is sustainability. In the field of architecture and green building, SCGH explores an emergent movement known as ‘conscious design.’ This comes largely as a reaction to the twentieth century in which the Industrial Revolution reached its zenith in an aesthetic of bigger-as-better building, promoting the construction of enormous, mostly inefficient buildings to facilitate mass consumption. The consequences of this design have included crises of food and water, widespread pollution, climate change, and an ever-growing sense of human alienation from each other and from the Earth.
Traditional wisdom holds that immediate human needs and comforts come first. The by-products of this attitude, though, have returned us to the understanding that maintaining the health of our planet is essential to supporting human needs. The solutions to these compounding crises seem to be two-fold: dramatically reduce our excesses, while simultaneously shifting our techniques away from monumentalism and toward new ideas that promote balance, efficiency, and collaboration with the natural landscape. For many, the source of inspiration for these ideas has been the landscape itself.
In contrast to the industrial approach that has viewed society as essentially separate from nature, conscious design aims to integrate our homes and buildings into our natural environment, utilizing the strength and resilience of local materials, as well as instilling a sense of natural order into the constructed world we inhabit.
One hallmark of conscious design is the usage of mathematical archetypes that appear commonly in the natural world—like the hexagon, a six-sided figure with angles adding up to 720 degrees. Hexagons can be found in the plates of a turtle’s shell; the structures of molecules, crystals, and snowflakes; and in the honeycombs of beehives. They also appear as the byproduct of the rapid cooling of magma in famous natural wonders the Devil’s Postpile in California and the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
As one of the strongest and most efficient shapes known to engineers, the hexagon inspires design and construction in many ways. When used in a grid—like in a honeycomb—hexagons create a large central area supported by walls of a minimal length. This means hexagon-shaped structures require less material to build, offer more open floor plans, and can self-reinforce under pressure. As part of his mission to contribute to a more harmonious, enlightened society, Frank Lloyd Wright utilized this innovative hexagonal design to integrate his groundbreaking Hanna-Honeycomb House into its sloping topography.
The hexagon also offers a unique aesthetic value due to its impeccable symmetry, providing a sense of balance that conscious design strives to achieve. The benefits of experiencing this sort of balance in our environments include a strong placating effect on the human mind. Throughout history, symmetrical archetypes like the hexagon have been used in art and religious imagery to create this effect, appearing everywhere from Buddhist mandalas to the symbol of Judaism, the Star of David.
While engineering has always taken some inspiration from observing naturally occurring forms, the current shift to conscious design benefits from a deeper philosophical vision. Instead of borrowing ideas solely for the sake of better engineering, architects and engineers are now designing homes and other buildings with the conscious intention of natural reintegration. What’s more, they’re actively working to restore balance to a planet widely seen as out of balance as a result of human recklessness.
Today, sustainability means more than building in a way that enables our species to thrive for many generations to come. On a deeper level, it’s a movement focused on co-existing with nature—rather than conquering it. Sustainability and, more specifically, conscious design, is a process of humility, whereby human designers and builders look to nature not only as a resource, but also as a source of inspiration. Learn more from SCGH.com about how to make your home healthier, more efficient, and more sustainable.
About the Author: Travis Moe is a writer currently living and writing in Oaxaca, Mexico.
For related articles, please see:
Los Angeles Decorator Does Interior Design from the Outdoors In
Environmentally Friendly Architects
Feng Shui and Sustainable Living
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