Concept of Beauty in Contemporary Architecture
Sustainability Changes Understanding of Form & Function in Buildings
- Green building concerns like energy efficiency and built-in flexibility are changing the traditional understanding and physical expression of architecture's goals.
A building’s fitness or functionality is related to how well it accommodates the building program, or the functions to be conducted in the structure. Aesthetically pleasing design has sought to realize architecture, and by extension form, that was beautiful according to the tastes of the day. Soundness has usually been equated with structural integrity: Will the building stand up to the elements over time?
Aesthetics has often trumped fitness in architecture. Classicism was preoccupied with the articulation of architectural orders on the building façade. Modernism has been equally guilty of formal concerns, as any number of iconic glass and steel structures attest. The concept of form follows function, articulated by architects like Louis Kahn, developed in reaction to Modernism’s excesses.
Kahn’s best work ironically represents an effortless-looking marriage between function and form. The first-time viewer can hardly discern which came first: the goal of making a beautiful building or meeting the requirements of the building program. The Capital Complex in Dhaka and Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth both reveal a contemporary aesthetic in concrete with ancient formal references.
Careful detailing of the structure and a thorough grasp of building science principles are required to render a building sound. Mies van der Rohe is often credited with the dictum, “God is in the details,” a reminder that buildings only endure if properly designed, detailed and constructed.
Sustainable Considerations in BuildingsSoundness has acquired new meaning with the advent of sustainable design. Environmental considerations can shape buildings physically in several ways.
Designers of sustainable structures may incorporate solar panels to harvest energy passively. A residence clad in solar panels inevitably has a different aesthetic than a conventional suburban house. Multi-unit residential buildings that eliminate thermal bridges caused by extensive use of glazing and concrete decks do not resemble conventional glass-panelled high-rise towers.
Passive solar strategies often borrow design elements from local vernacular architecture to address harsh regional climatic conditions. In the southern US, louvers and sunshades, together with light-coloured building materials for cladding and roofing purposes, reduce heat gain. Thermal mass provided by insulated walls can reduce heat gain and heat loss, enhancing thermal comfort in all climate zones.
Sustainable design ensures that every occupant has access to views out, natural light and where possible, natural ventilation. This strategy has an effect on building floor plates, sometimes resulting in narrower floor plans or highly articulated ones that expose interior zones to two or more exposures.
Designers of green buildings are less concerned with producing iconic architecture than structures that reduce fossil fuel consumption. The design’s adaptability to changing programmatic and cultural conditions is another important factor in environmentally-conscious design.
Changing AestheticThe idea of beauty in architecture is gradually changing as more sustainable building occurs. Selecting local building materials in order to reduce transportation distances, and providing greater opacity in cladding materials to enhance energy performance are just two examples of design criteria that are changing how buildings look.
The designer’s challenge is to produce an ecologically sound edifice without compromising contemporary ideas of beauty. There are enough good examples of sustainable design that is sound, fit for its purpose and a delight to behold to encourage even the harshest critic of contemporary architecture.