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Guest Thinkers

Designing a Hedonistic and Sustainable Future

Hedonistic Sustainability is not an intellectual paradox. It is, instead, the latest and most exciting evolution of the green movement that is just now coming into its own as a powerful architectural and design concept. This sustainability movement has a radical new intellectual champion: the Danish architectural genius Bjarke Ingels, who likes to think BIG. Nothing better summarizes the concept of Hedonistic Sustainability than his latest project, scheduled to break ground in 2012: an urban waste-processing and power plant in (completely flat) Copenhagen converted into a multi-purpose urban ski slope. At the same time that the plant generates heat and electricity for 140,000 homes, skiers dressed in Brazilian-style bikinis can ride elevators to the top and ski down to the bottom. Oh, and at night, there’s a backdrop of beautiful neon CO2 smoke rings illuminated in the night sky.

What Hedonistic SusSki-copenhagen_smokeringtainability does is transform the whole sustainability movement into something very youthful, dynamic and egalitarian. It proves that design and architecture can be economically profitable as well as environmentally sustainable. You no longer need to compromise when it comes to going green. Think for a second what the term “sustainability” currently conjures up – a notion that you are somehow compromising and accepting hardship for the sake of a greater good. For example, you plunk down cash for an electrical vehicle, but realize deep down that you’re probably compromising on speed and performance. Or, you buy environmentally-friendly clothing, but realize that you’re probably giving up a certain amount of fashion and style. But what if you can truly have it all? What if you can do something that is good for the environment, while doing something good for yourself and for the economy?

I recently had the unique opportunity to hear Bjarke Ingels speak at a TEDx event in New York City, and I walked away impressed by the scope, depth and range of his vision for Hedonistic Sustainability – as well as inspired by the fun and flair that he uses to delight audiences. He’s a bit of an impish talent who’s pulled off stunts like transporting the famous harbour mermaid statue from Copenhagen to the Danish Pavilion in Shanghai, and it’s fun to hear him drop terms like “courtscraper” (courtyard + skyscraper) and “architectural alchemy” (converting parking garages into beautiful creations) in casual conversation.

Bjarkeingels_NYC In addition to the awe-inspiring Copenhagen ski project that simultaneously transforms waste into energy, Bjarke Ingels and the other architects at BIG are spearheading other projects on multiple continents that are at the intersection of hedonism and sustainability. (In other words, they’re fun, they’re exciting and most importantly, they’re good for the environment) There’s the City Hall project in Tallinn, the Loop that unites densely populated regions of Denmark and Sweden, and a green apartment building on West 57th Street in New York City. (When he showed slides of this project to the TEDx audience in midtown, he accompanied it with music from Jay-Z and Alicia Keys singing the New York anthem Empire State of Mind).

Taking a big picture view, hedonistic sustainability is what happens when you stop thinking about buildings as structures and start thinking about them as ecosystems. When buildings are part of ecosystems, they can be used to help create a closed loop for recycling energy, minimizing your environmental impact and creating positive side products like a higher quality of life. Sustainable cities start with sustainable systems. Is it time we exchange our current system of unsustainable hedonism for a new system of hedonistic sustainability?


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