In the final episode of our Climate Salon podcast series with SketchUp, architects discuss why sustainability should guide the aesthetics of a building, as opposed to the reverse.
Titled “A sustainable approach to aesthetics”, the conversation explored how architects can help develop a new sense of what is beautiful and desirable based on what is most beneficial to the environment.
Listen to the episode below or subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts to catch the whole series.
Hosted by Dezeen’s design and environment reporter Jennifer Hahn, the episode featured Swiss-Danish architect Kathrin Gimmel, MEE Studio founder Morten Emil Engel, and Andrew Corney, engineer and product director at Trimble’s SketchUp.
The panel discussed whether designing sustainable buildings necessitates a different approach to aesthetics, touching on how clients and the wider public can be convinced to adapt their sense of beauty in architecture to include its impact on the planet.
“As a whole society, we still have a big step to take to accept that not everything needs to look new,” Gimmel said. “Things can be weathered and change their look over time.”
“We can’t pretend that aesthetics is not important when it comes to sustainability”
Corney highlighted the importance of tying aesthetics and sustainability together, noting that people often choose architects and buildings based on their aesthetic appeal.
“We can’t pretend that aesthetics is not important when it comes to sustainability,” Corney said.
“We have people who are still sort of seeing aesthetics as something that’s just an add on, but it needs to be something that’s part of the design.”
The panel emphasised the need to move away from resource-intensive, high-tech architecture towards a more holistic, environmentally responsive approach. Engel noted how architects could look to historical building practices to inform contemporary methods in a sustainable way.
“This ‘back to basics’ approach is actually a lot more charming,” Engel said.
“I’m not saying that buildings should be more primitive as such, but we need to look at how buildings were designed in the past, because they were basically responding to the environment a lot of the time.”
“Perfection is unachievable”
The panel underscored the importance of finding beauty in imperfections and the evolving aesthetics of buildings over time. They discussed embracing a narrative of repairability, giving the examples of the Japanese concepts of wabi-sabi and kintsugi, which celebrate, rather than conceal, imperfection and impermanence.
“There’s an Eastern philosophy where they realised a long time ago that perfection is unachievable, so we should appreciate the imperfect,” Engel said. “I think we can really learn from that, actually.”
“If you produce something beautiful, then you should also take care of it,” he continued. “And even though it’s seemingly broken, it can be repaired, and it can actually become maybe more beautiful, and the storytelling becomes more interesting.”
“Imperfections are a part of beauty,” added Gimmel. “One thing is how a building looks when it’s finished, but over its lifetime, we should appreciate how both its exterior and interior develops.”
The conversation turned to the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to merge technology and sustainability.
While acknowledging AI’s potential to streamline design processes and analyse environmental impacts, concerns were raised about the generic, superficial solutions that lack human insight into specific climates and contexts.
“There is really a huge amount of knowledge that designers just don’t have”
Instead, the panel envisioned AI as a potential co-pilot in design software, providing real-time feedback on sustainability metrics and material choices.
“I could imagine that AI is built into design software,” Engel said. “So when we design, it tells us: ‘what if you change the facade material to this? You would save so much CO2.'”
“With this green transition, there is really a huge amount of knowledge that designers just don’t have,” he continued. “We’re designing AI – it’s not autonomous – so we can design the AI that we want to have. And if we designed it in such a way, I think it could really be a game changer.”
In practical terms, the panellists urged architects to prioritise sustainability from the outset of every project. This includes selecting low-carbon and local materials, considering the lifecycle of buildings including their maintenance and adaptability, and shifting towards the reuse of existing structures.
The conversation marked the final episode of Dezeen and SketchUp’s Climate Salon. Produced by Dezeen’s in-house creative team, the podcast series explored the role that architects and designers can play in tackling climate change.
Across six episodes, Dezeen spoke to industry experts ranging from architects, designers and engineers to explore how to better collaborate across their respective disciplines to create a more cohesive response to climate change.
The sixth episode is now available to download. Subscribe now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts to make sure you don’t miss an episode.
SketchUp is a piece of 3D design software used to model architectural and interior design projects, product designs, civil and mechanical engineering and more. It is owned by construction technology company Trimble.
The Climate Salon podcast was produced by Dezeen in partnership with SketchUp. Find out more about Dezeen partnership content here.