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Is Green Architecture Just a Soup de Jour?

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MIT architecture professor Nader Tehrani says he is not an expert on green architecture. But as a principal of Office dA, an internationally renowned architecture firm that has produced a number of earth-friendly sustainable buildings, including Helios House, a power station in Los Angeles, and the Macallen building, a 144 unit condominium in Boston, it’s surprising to hear him describe himself as “one of the people thinking that most architects are using the banner of green architecture as a kind of soup de jour.” In his Big Think interview, Tehrani explains that sustainability is “a serious issue” in terms of policy and production but that not everything has a direct consequence on the actual form of a piece of architecture.

“Imagine, if you will, you make a great piece of green building… a great piece of architecture that is also a green building, you know, on Route 128.  What is the consequence of that building when the entire planning principles of the United States, in a way, cultivate an attitude about sprawl?” Tehrani asks. In his opinion, many of the techniques of sustainable design, such as properly orienting a building in relation to the sun and relying on natural modes of ventilation, have been around for centuries. What the green movement needs now, he argues, is not so much a rethinking of the principles of  architectural design and form, but a larger reconsideration of the impact of planning, urban design, politics and policy. 

From a scholarly standpoint however, Tehrani is less concerned about architecture’s ability “get around the hurdle of sustainability” in the coming decades, than he is about the information age’s repercussions on the education of architecture. As design becomes accessible to larger masses of people with the ability to communicate across continents, age groups, and publishing platforms, he—like many other academics—wonders where criticism will gauge in the classroom. In the future, Tehrani says, an ability to “deal with the exceptionality of the synthetic moment in inventive ways” will separate the great architects from the masses.


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