Sustainable Architecture as Tactical Design

Hey everybody – I heard this piece on the podcast 99% Invisible a few months ago and it stuck in my head. As I’m working with something subverting municipal design, I thought I’d share it:

“Sustainable Design is a design philosophy that seeks to maximize the quality of the built environment, while minimizing or eliminating the negative impact to the natural environment.” -Jason F. McLennan, The Philosophy of Sustainable Design

I like McLennan’s definition of sustainable design because it’s broken into two parts (1) minimizing negative impact, and (2) maximizing quality. Minimizing the negative is a given that I think everyone understands (and is absolutely critical, no doubt), but it’s the aspect of sustainable design that is also seeking to “maximize the quality of the built environment” that I find really inspiring. That is what intrigued me about Civil Twilight’s Lunar-resonant Streetlights. This project won the 2007 Metropolis Next Generation Design Competition partly because explored the serious issue of massive energy consumption by excessive outdoor lighting by offering a poetic solution that really focused on maximizing quality. Civil Twilight’s streetlights sense and respond to ambient moonlight and allow people in urban areas to reconnect with the nighttime cycles that were lost long ago to light pollution.

This got me thinking – can we consider sustainable design and (potentially radical) forms of architecture as a type of tactical design? If that architecture takes on a functionality that includes media immersion (such as the communicating bus stops we saw as an example, or Max Neuhaus’s Times Square piece, which changes our experience of a space), is it then a type of civic media? Perhaps it’s a stretch, but the inherent purpose of something like Lunar-resonant Streetlights (especially in contrast to the traditional civic elements that make up a city) seems to embody those ideals. 

Categories: Reflective Posts


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