Visiting Professor Encourages Sustainable Architecture

Professor Joel Sanders of Yale University says tying together landscape and architecture can allow buildings to act as a single system...

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By Elizabeth Kussman via the Cornell Daily Sun, 4/18/13

Prof. Joel Sanders, architecture, Yale University, encouraged students to address the divide between the fields of landscape and architecture and consider the potential of unifying the two topics at a lecture Wednesday.

According to Sanders, creating an alliance between landscape and architecture will allow buildings and landscapes to “perform as systems that can heal the environment.”

Three key concepts to consider in this unification are topography, ecology and biocomputation, Sanders said.

Sanders said new architects are rejecting a tradition in topography where a building sits discretely on flat land. Now, architects are transforming buildings to resemble landforms with striking silhouettes that confuse manmade and natural, he said.

Sanders hopes to push sustainability beyond “familiar checklists” like encouraging firms to buy and use the most energy-efficient materials.

“Designers in the book are interested in unleashing the creative potential of sustainability,” Sanders said.

Sanders cited the Urban Outfitters headquarters in Philadelphia, Pa. — constructed entirely of salvaged materials like slabs of pavement and railroad infrastructure — as an example of creative sustainability.

In addition, new architecture holds potential to fight desertification — the process of land degradation — by using bacteria to turn sand dunes into solid mass, Sanders said.

“Designers must radically readjust their way of thinking and working,” Sanders said. “Nature and civilization, though not the same, have always been intertwined and are becoming ever more so.”

Sanders warned that the union of architecture and landscape is especially critical in the face of current environmental concerns.

“We have tipped the balance between nature and civilization,” he said. Sanders said design that does not consider the environment results in “environmental casualties.”

Sanders attributes the historic gap between architecture and landscape in part to a polarity between people and nature, an idea that reinforces the idea of nature as “a vulnerable entity that must be protected from the predatory interest of humans, including architects and landscape architects.”

Frederick Law Olmsted, who is considered the father of landscape architecture, challenged the dichotomy of man and nature in the nineteenth century when he designed Central Park, Sanders said. For instance, he said, Olmstead was able to create a natural oasis within a metropolis that offered protection from the industrial city.

Sanders urged future architects to pursue a new design approach to overcome the false dichotomy between architecture and landscape.

“We must understand the deep rooted cultural, ideological practices that have brought us to where we are in an architecture and landscape divide,” he said.

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