According to a new study, beauty and sustainable building make for the most potent combination of high performance. The Pattern Mapping Institute had a hunch that buildings which were considered aesthetically superior also had a better range of environmental attributes. So through a study of correlated AIA Cote award winning and LEED Platinum projects, they found that integrated designs that aligned beauty and function had 4 times the impact of those with just LEED Platinum certification. Jump ahead to find out more on what their white paper said.
The purpose of the study was to take what Christopher Alexander calls the “The Quality Without a Name” and not only name it but quantify it. The study uses a matrix tool called ‘Beauty in Building’ (or BiB) which uses a weighted list of “beauty attributes” and “environmental determinants.” The obvious question to start with how the heck do you determine beauty? The study identifies beauty attributes as “built environments that make us feel fully alive.” Rather than trying to create a complex process about how we feel, the Pattern Mapping Institute, headed by architect ml Robles, in partnership with Colorado University, used AIA Cote top ten winners which were also LEED Platinum certified for the research. The study breaks beauty down into two main pots: local, or non repetitive, and connectivity, meaning how we feel in the space.
The study then took ten more LEED Platinum buildings and compared the performance of both groups using green metrics such as intensity of mechanical heating and cooling systems versus passive systems, reduction in waste, connectivity, daylighting, water management, and the list goes on. After breaking down projects and assigning values to each determinant, they found the pattern they were looking for. Buildings which best fulfilled the qualities of beauty also had higher levels of performance.
Another pattern was uncovered as well; the projects that scored well also had a higher level of integrated design. With 4 times the improvement in BiB score, the AIA Cote winners show that there is something to the idea that beauty equals performance, and there is a significant causal relationship between integrated design and sustainability.
The study states: “Award-winning high performing certified buildings were found to be 2.87 times more likely to have integrated building strategies than those that were within the high-performing certified group of buildings.” However, that’s a particularly significant jump, and a very specific number which brings methodology into question.
Buildings are very complex, so quantifying values can be vexing. A study like this is straddling the line between very specific metrics and the very pliable concept of feeling fully alive. Putting them together in a cohesive, measurable tool that promises a balanced result means that the tool must be flexible, refined, and transparent. Whether it proves to be of value to the design community only time will tell, but it does directly address a notion the we at Inhabitat hold close to our heart: the best sustainable buildings are the ones that make you feel something as well.
Lead image Vancouver Convention Center LMN Architects