Exactly what direct effects have flowed from Paolo Solari’s experiment in the Arizona desert I’ll leave to others. But my musings on the relationship between ecology, design, and, perhaps, greenwashing were prompted by an article on Arcosanti in this week’s New York Times. The article is titled An Early Eco-City Faces the Future. A few lines in particular caught my eye. The author, Michael Tortorello, describes how some recent trends, like “the national food-gardening craze,” have not caught on at Arcosanti, an intentional community of 56 people who would otherwise seem like exactly the type of people who would be excited about sustainable food production. Tortorello goes on to say:
Meanwhile, the project has only dabbled in popular technologies like solar panels, rain barrels and composting toilets, off-the-shelf gear that can be applied on a small scale.
“I should have them,” Mr. Soleri said during a recent visit to the project. Yet for most Americans, he maintained, chasing these technologies can become a game unto itself. “We are passionate collectors of gadgetries,” he said. “We can’t resist.”
This reminds me of a quote from the architect, Glenn Murcutt, that I often share with my students. I found this quote in a conference paper by Christopher Theis called Prospects for Ecological Design Education. Theis cites a Raul A. Barreneche (2002) article in Architecture magazine where Murcutt’s Pritzker Architecture Prize was announced.
If I were a young architect today looking at supposed eco-architecture, I wouldn’t want to do it; it’s a one-liner. When ecology becomes the major issue, you’re left with a scientific box that does nothing for the spirit. I cannot separate the idea of the poetic and the rational. If there’s not a junction, we’ve got merchandise, not architecture.
And this is from an architect renowned for what some would call eco-architecture. I think Murcutt speaks directly to this issue of “getting real,” of going beyond green gimmicks and gadgets, as Soleri suggests. So what is the role of the gadgetry? In this age of recession, one could argue that green building and green infrastructure, commonly reduced to checklists and engineering-based techniques, have been some of the few areas of growth. What are the implications of this?