Sustainable Design

I almost hit the tree.

It was sometime near midnight and I was out prowling the Carmel center in search of something interesting. I walked down into Gan HaEm, just above the Haifa zoo where as a child I had wondered over the majestic wild animals which I now recognize as barely conscious souvenirs of their wild selves, stuffed into cages about ten sizes too small to accommodate any but the most stunted of souls. In a primary, emotional way, this zoo is everything that sustainable design is not. It’s a place where complex, beautiful and valuable ecosystem treasures are wasted for the half-assed benefit of largely oblivious human beings.

But, only meters from the green bars of the zoo’s front gate, as I ascended towards the thoroughfare of Shderot Hanassi, the sidewalk narrowed between two wrought-iron fences, and flowed around something. It was a huge cyprus tree, standing in the middle of the sidewalk like a tourist pausing to stare up at the tops of the high-rises. Everybody would just have to go around.

Go around.

This is the right idea. Sustainable design is not just the mitigation of ecological damage by lessening the damaging outflows of pollution, sewage, or carbon from inevitable development. Sustainable design should, from stage one, be about design; specifically, it should consider and respect the local environment. This does not mean leveling an entire valley with bulldozers, then making sure to add skylights and waterless urinals into the subsequent office buildings. Real sustainable design is about using the valuable resources of the local ecosystem (natural drainage, wetlands (for effluent treatment), heritage trees or habitats, shaderows and natural wind-blocks, beautiful native flora and geomorphology) and building around nature, not on top of it. In this overlooked pocket of urban Haifa, decades before the term Sustainable Design was coined, some prescient architect was told to build a sidewalk where a tree was, and decided that between the two of them, the sidewalk would be the one to get out of the way.

Smart (read:green) builders these days have a wide selection of efficient appliances, bathroom fixtures, heating and cooling systems, water recycling mechanisms, electricity sources and biodegradable or recycled building materials to choose from. With all the new technologies on the market, lets not forget about how much of the Sustainable Design process occurs before a single blueprint has been drawn.


~ by jonlib on June 17, 2008.

3 Responses to “Sustainable Design”

  1. Hi, I found this article from google, it’s great!
    I was trying to write something about sustainable design and respect. I think it’s important for designers to think ‘how to respect’ before their start to design; then, we won’t need to trying so hard to recycle, reuse. etc.
    Do you mind share some other ideas with me?That will be great.
    Thank you!


  2. Hi Tian,

    Thanks for your interest in my post! My education and experience is primarily in the basic ecological sciences, where I’ve learned to value ecosystem services for their munificence to both man and nature. By dabbling a bit in Ecological Economics, I noticed that generally speaking, ecosystems can not only provide many of the goods and services that we now produce using industrial methods, they can do it cheaper (and cleaner) than we can. This is why I believe that Sustainable Design should begin by identifying, locating, quantifying and valuating local ecosystem services, so that these services can be best incorporated into the final design. I do not think that this is a new idea, but we are still well behind the curve in terms of appraising the real value of the ecosystems we sacrifice in the name of growth. Check out this article, for instance, from the BBC:

    “Nature loss ‘dwarfs bank crisis;”

    Like I said, I am not on the front lines of the sustainable design movement, but I try to keep abreast of new developments. If you have any valuable links, I invite you to post them. It seems like we have made a lot of headway on green building techniques in the last ten years, and now the next step is to reevaluate our planning on a municipal scale. This is where huge savings in energy and fresh water could be achieved, but the bureaucracy of local government can seem hopelessly irremediable. Who knows, maybe someday soon I’ll come out from under the shade of all this ivory and try to get a foot in the door of the burgeoning “sustainability industry”.

  3. Hi Jonlib,
    Thank you so much for the reply!!!Really appreciate!!!
    The field of sustainable is a little bit over ‘heated’ recently, I am not saying that it is a bad thing; it’s just many products started to take advantage of ‘sustainable’ instead of making some effort for human.
    I am currently study in US, we’ve got our projects and some interesting findings on website:
    check it if you like.

    Thank you for the information!

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