As Overland’s Sustainability Coordinator, I recently had the opportunity to attend the 2014 Living Future unConference in Portland, Oregon. The focus of this year’s conference is Beauty, the most controversial of the Living Building Challenge’s seven petals because of its perceived subjectivity. So the question arises, why is beauty so important for the Living Building Challenge and for the green movement in general? For two simple reasons:

1. We tend to take better care of the things we perceive as beautiful.

This is relevant to the green building industry because beautiful buildings are more likely to be cared for over time by future generations. Ugly, unpleasant, and unhealthy buildings tend to be poorly maintained and eventually demolished, creating waste and depleting limited resources in order to construct new buildings. Hence, retrofitting existing buildings is the most sustainable course of action, and this course is more likely to be pursued if a building is considered to be “beautiful.”

2. Beauty gives meaning to architecture.

Beauty is not just about the visual experience. We engage with architecture through all of our senses; therefore the thermal, acoustical, kinesthetic, and olfactory environments must be equally considered in design.

When that is accomplished we call it good design, because it is designed with the experience of the end-user in mind, not for an image in a magazine. Furthermore, good design entails maximizing daylit spaces and providing healthy environmental air quality, optimal acoustics, a high-performance envelope that adapts to its context to provide thermal comfort (as well as energy savings), and biophilic elements to promote occupant happiness and well-being. This type of design is also good for the environment, and consequently is good for our communities, both for our immediate neighbors and for those across the ocean, as well as for present and future generations alike. Making the world a better place through the practice of beautiful architecture? That’s meaningful.

Because people are attracted and respond to it, beauty is the secret weapon of the green movement.

Previously, many used to be intimidated by thermostats and avoided adjusting them. Nest, through good design, raises awareness and empowers people to be proactive about their environment.

Another example of how good design can create paradigm shifts is light bulbs. Remember when we tried to convinced people to use CFLs over incandescent bulbs because they were more energy efficient? There was a lot of push back from the market because of their “ugly,” unpleasant quality of light, and the first generation of these bulbs were big and chunky. Now, with LED technology, we no longer have to convince the market to switch. People are excited about them because they are not only more energy efficient, they also give a pleasant light quality and are beautiful.

At the conference, Jason McLennan, CEO of the International Living Future Institute, spoke of growing up in Sudbury, Ontario, a nickel-mining town that by 1970 was the largest single source of acid rain in North America. Stripped of trees and with lakes deadly to fish, Sudbury featured rocks stained by gunk that spewed from the tallest smokestack in the world.

Jason also shared of his hearing loss in one ear that is due to the mining pollution in his hometown. But he wasn’t the only one adversely affected; many died from cancer and other diseases.

Is your beauty someone else’s ugly? Is it worth it?

Mining town of Sudbury, Ontario. Jewelry from Tiffany&Co.



Is it worth it?

Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Energy waste from an energy inefficient building.


Or is it time to rethink design? Wings of Life – Louie Schwartzberg


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