No Building Is An Island

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By Mark Lundegren

DSC_0661-Edit~2The idea that no building is an island may strike you as obvious.

And yet, our modern design and construction practices often treat each building as if it were an island unto itself…with designers, builders, developers, and building owners indifferent to and sometimes even contemptuous of each new projects’ surroundings and history.

It’s not hard to understand why this is the case. In this time of relatively unbridled and unexamined egoism and status-seeking, our norms and incentives encourage the creation of buildings that are different and even contrary to those around them – buildings designed first to produce esteem for their creators, rather than to enhance our naturally interdependent life together.

If Only Life – And Building – Were This Easy!

At the same time, the advance of construction, materials, and design technologies now allows many new building techniques and practices to be pursued. And whether for self-serving or more principled motivations, some of us are driven to use and test these new outer limits of design. But often this is done opportunistically or idealistically, and with little regard for the practical impact of our building experiments.

Seriously, This Seemed Like A Good Idea To Someone!

Along with these important trends of our time, the decline of traditional design standards – and our lack of superseding ideals and principles to serve and advance modern community life – leads to the isolated and disjointed building and inadequate community cohesiveness and focus that we see nearly everywhere in our built environment today.

These factors contribute to a dominant “island psychology” as respects design and building (and our behavior more generally). This outlook and its consequences can be seen in the often narrow preoccupations and ambitions of people constructing buildings.

Perhaps The Most Site-Sensitive Building Ever…But A Blank Check Budget 

It can also be seen in the frequent indifference and fecklessness of community leaders, planners, and building departments, when tolerating or enabling obviously poor community design practices. Together, these common features of modern building fail to serve our collective and individual interests for modern life in engaging, lively, and secure communities – life that inevitably requires some amount of wisdom and public-mindedness.

Unrestrained Island Thinking In The Extreme…Do-Over Not So Easy

On this point, it’s worth recalling that in pre-modern life, building and movement were often difficult, and a natural compactness, efficiency, and consistency in our communities resulted from these limitations. This of course is no longer the case, and our new technological power begs us all to exercise new foresight in the way we shape our environment.

Each building inevitably extends in every direction…at least visually and ecologically, and usually sociologically and perhaps spiritually too. Whether we build in urban, suburban, or rural area, we do a disservice to our environment, and circularly encourage further disservice by others, whenever we fail to consider this fact and account for the larger context of our building efforts.

Building With Overall Impact In Mind…Via Community Standards

Where a new and progressive sense of this modern contextualism has been taken seriously, the result has been positive. In future posts, we will examine good (and not-so-good) cases of contextually-sensitive and community-serving building and design, and discuss their reliable causes and prerequisites.

In the meantime, I invite your comments on modern building practices and our needed steps to promote cohesive, uplifting, and sustainable communities.

Mark Lundegren is the founder of ArchaNatura. 

Tell others about ArchaNatura…encourage progressive building & design!

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