what's your word

In the hopes to get a conversation going, and because the school blog is a busy place, I thought I would also post this here.

The question:

I would love to see and discuss all the words that archinecters (and others) use to describe design that innovatively engages natural, environmental, and climatic systems, and seeks to use as little resources (energy, etc...) as possible. Examples: Green, Sustainable, High Performance, Eco-Design, etc...

If you can, also please post why you use it (even if you use it disparagingly), and what the potential positive and negative connotations are for the word you use. Finally, please give a suggestion for a word that you think might be better to describe such design?


Well throughout the week I have had conversations with people, and it seems like there are no good words to describe the design I mentioned above. Not only that, but certain words seem to turn people off to the subject completely. I myself do not think that words like green and sustainable really convey what people want them to. For example, a doctor friend of mine who is a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility ( once told me that he didn't like the word ”˜sustainability'. Why? Well he says that it gives an impression of a “status quo” world. He is of the opinion that most people involved in ”˜environmental, green, sustainable' field are really trying to innovatively improve the ”˜status quo'. I mostly agree, although cannot find a suitable substitute.

Furthermore, in the design field people seem to run away from ”˜green' and ”˜sustainability' labels as if they were the plague. Many of the best-known architects will engage the environment, but wholeheartedly refuse the label. I applaud them as I am of the opinion that the right word to use for buildings that innovatively engage natural, environmental, and climatic systems, and seek to use as little resources as possible, is this simple and elegant word: ARCHITECTURE. Still, I do think that we need a descriptive word for now, and I am sure archinecters have opinions on the subject.

Sep 18, 06 8:49 am

typical dutch. ;-)

seriously though, good question. I've heard similar criticism of the term "sustainable." 'Green' is advertising lingo - it bothers me.

ask yourself, WWWMcDD?

Sep 18, 06 10:35 am  · 

"environmentally-intelligent" ^

Sep 18, 06 10:36 am  · 

ecologically appropriate

Sep 18, 06 4:26 pm  · 
Carl Douglas (agfa8x)


Sep 18, 06 6:18 pm  · 

smart or high-performance

Sep 18, 06 8:18 pm  · 


Sep 18, 06 9:09 pm  · 

conscientious environmentalism.

Sep 18, 06 9:10 pm  · 

wow... it seems like this is a timely question after all...

Sep 18, 06 9:19 pm  · 

"environmentally sensitive"

"green washing" captures the marketing world's embrace of environmental design. just about anything is green if you ignore what's not.

the problem with whatever label is that it assert/equates design with an environmentally responsible approach. the latter should be subservient. this needs some development but minimalism provided fertile ground for sustainable design.

Sep 18, 06 10:09 pm  · 

"Green design" is quick and easy to say in conversation. "Environmental" or "sustainable" when I'm talking to people who have a vague concept of what I mean. "Solar panels" when they have no concept whatsoever of what I mean.

Sep 18, 06 10:47 pm  · 
Carl Douglas (agfa8x)

why segment design like this again?

Sep 18, 06 11:37 pm  · 

I agree with you that walking around saying that you're doing 'sustainable architecture' really gets you nowhere, and not just because other architects will turn up their noses at you... it's just not a word charged with meaning anymore.

But one should ask, for whom is the "word" for? If it's to position oneself in a dialogue with other architects and designers, I'm not sure it really matters that much at all. You could pick any one of a number of crafty words and just do your own thing.

But we're architects, and we need to be able to relate to the public, to a dialogue outside of architecture as well as inside of it. After all, if you are going to have success with building your ideas about "climatic architecture", you will need to build a climate in the public realm where clients can recognize and approach you for your specific strategy of whatever-you-want-to-call-it.

EcoLogical Architecture: a logic that gives you feedback about the environment to inform your design--that works for a discussion with architects, and the term itself is acceptable with the general public because ecology is taught in highschool textbooks (hope they were paying attention in 10th grade...).

Site Intelligence (I think I have heard that term before) I like this one because it doesn't scream "I AM SAVING THE WORLD HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!" It's simple, it just means that the building effort is collaborative, and in a funny way, the site itself is the BOSS, governing decisions on the site. Of course the architect is the spokesperson for the Site, and herein probably lies all the beauty and the ugliness of it. Not sure if you're average educated Joe would know what I'm talking about though.

Thanks for this discussion...

Sep 19, 06 4:32 am  · 
Carl Douglas (agfa8x)

but if you brand yourself as a specialist, you will only get specialist work, won't you?

Sep 19, 06 4:56 am  · 

"Affordable AND Sustainable" architecture...

In a recent seminar given by Tony Watkins, the co-founder of Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility argued that the issue of profitability has hindered wider implementation of green buildings. He contends that there is a misconception about sustainable buildings having high capital-cost and low cost-in-use (which in time makes up for the former) but that 'true' sustainable buildings have lower than average capital cost and even lower operational cost.

When it first came out, the cost difference between buildings that built-in energy-saving technology and conventional ones was 50%, now it is said to be less than 3%. I guess it still depends on both quantitative and qualitative factors, but the fact of the matter is that we are almost (if not already) there.

We just need to get out there and Design Like We Give a Damn!

Sep 19, 06 6:56 am  · 

agfa, great point.

What you say about 'specialists' also talks about the fact that right now the 'eco' revolution is seen as a technologies intensive category. In schools the ‘sustainability’ stuff is usually taught in the buildings technology class, etc...

What about design? Theory?

One of the most fascinating courses I took while at the University of Florida was a sustainability theory course. We read from Corbu to Bucky Fuller to Office DA to Bruce Mau (who is a big proponent of all these issues). We were able to easily translate the theory issues into form in studio.

Sep 19, 06 7:00 am  · 

not my word, but one within which i find myself working: 'high performance'.

kentucky department of education (and maybe goes higher) has a 'high performance school' program that promotes the design of open, daylit, energy-conscious school construction. some districts are paying attention. others are saying that they're paying attention.

Sep 19, 06 7:30 am  · 


Sep 19, 06 11:32 am  · 
vado retro


Sep 19, 06 1:13 pm  · 

Vado, I like that one and believe it to be true in almost all counts. But sadly this type of design/architecture has wrongly garnered the complete opposite connotation. Maybe partly because of the technology that people believe is necessary to reach those goals.

Sep 19, 06 1:34 pm  · 

"Strategic" more in discussing projects related to "Positioning" in the market place. More likely with developer / commercial clients because of their need to do well in the market place ie to sell or create a better building/ business plan for my client ie good effective use of site, create presence, offer better amenities etc.

I don't find that terms such as "green architecture and sustainable" are really as valid as they use to be, mostly because they are so heavily used in the mainstream media that the true nature of what they represent has been diluted. Fine for a discussion with someone who doesn't undertand the subtle nature of "ecologiacally based design" but I think amongst ourselves we need to use more precise with terminology.

I like "responsible" as well.

Sep 19, 06 2:55 pm  · 

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