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What's Next: Blaine Brownell
Blaine Brownell, 31 Dec 06
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Foresight in Architecture

Architecture is currently undergoing one of the most fundamental and unprecedented shifts in its history, both in the eyes of its makers and its users. Based on a new-found awareness about humanity's undeniable impact on the health of our planet, coupled with the fact that buildings utilize roughly half of all resources, a new challenge has arisen which architecture must address.

For as long as we can remember, architects have attended to the fundamental qualities of function and form in their work. Create an edifice that is practical as well as beautiful, we were told, and you have succeeded. However, this simple recipe is no longer sufficient.

It is reckless for architecture to remain a collection of attractive and pragmatic objects which suck huge amounts of resources, serve the needs of relatively few people for a relatively short period of time, and are then demolished and injected into the great human waste stream. We now need more from architecture. In short, we need a new F-word. In addition to function and form, I believe that architecture must have foresight.

Foresight does not simply consider ways to make a building last longer, although durability can be an important component of sustainable thinking. Foresight respects the future health of the environment and the lives of individuals beyond those in the targeted user group. Foresight considers the entire ecology of material and energy resources which comprise a work, including their origins as well as their life after demolition. Foresight contemplates the welfare of the individuals affected by the work, from the building's inhabitants to the laborers who manufactured the building materials in a far-away country. Foresight shapes architecture that, like life itself, produces as well as consumes, reincorporates all of its waste, and maintains an ecological footprint in balance with the requirements of its context.

Foresight in architecture necessitates a fundamental understanding of the present and future material flows harnessed by building construction and product manufacturing, and it is therefore imperative for architects to become more knowledgeable about resources at both local and global scales. Today, major material shifts are occurring in the domains of energy, resources, and technology, all of which promise profound changes to our physical environment. An understanding of the coming challenges as well as potential positive solutions to these challenges will allow us to lead, rather than follow, the change ahead.

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Blaine gave a great talk at PopTech this year, and it's a pleasure to see his thoughtful post here. Keep up the good work, Blaine!

Posted by: Robert Tolmach on 3 Jan 07



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