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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Extreme Architecture to be key element of Sustainable Design

Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and floods spark a rethinking of building designs

In full light of events in Indonesia, New Orleans, Haiti and Japan, it is time for architects the world over to begin defining and developing a crucial new discipline, Extreme Architecture. To differentiate from the "extreme architecture" that signifies out-of-the-ordinary, sometimes into-the-woods building technologies at the fringes of humanity's habitats (a positive contribution, however in this context we are dealing equally with larger urban projects), I shall use a capital E as in Extreme to signify the architectural techniques that allow buildings to withstand extreme weather and catastrophic events. It is likely that Extreme Architecture will soon become a core component of Sustainable Design, and in time may ascend to the dominant new architectural form of the 21st Century. Skyscrapers may become relics, and earthscrapers innovative and intriguing.

The book Extreme Architecture explores building in the most challenging environments

In her book Extreme Architecture, author Ruth Slavid equates it to designing buildings for "extreme environments" with architecture that responds to its environment, and that's a great start. Her survey of close to fifty projects is divided into five sections (Hot, Cold, High, Wet, Space) that delineate the extremes architects must respond to.

According to an online review of Slavid's book Extreme Architecture, John at A Daily Dose of Architecture, the book is a worthy look / see / read:

The selection ranges from variations on the vernacular to far-fetched proposals that seem to exist only to push the envelope by pushing the limits of human existence. What is constant is Slavid's exemplary writing, descriptive and informative to be sure, but also able to hold the reader's interest project after project. Be it a school for a poor community, a ski jump, a floating house, or even a dirigible, Slavid's perspective on how the architecture responds to its conditions is consistent, not seduced by the fastastical nature of the most extreme of the extreme.

Svalbard global seed vault

Sustainable design means more than just greenness

If you really think about it, how sustainable is a building if it only stands for fifteen or even thirty five years? Extreme Architecture will spring to life and become the bridge between traditional sustainable design, and the more extreme architectural discipline of arcology, which comprises self-contained ecospheres generally designed to survive in space or on water. Extreme architecture will be almost entirely ground-based, and will have deep foundations and flowing structures.

The lessons learned from building in challenging environments all over the world need to be combined in a new sub-discipline of Sustainable Design. Crucial infrastructure buildings must respond to their environments, be able to handle extreme weather, and in certain areas be built with the understanding that catastrophic events like earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and tornadoes may occur.

Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt

While the buildings of Santiago Calatrava may be among the most inspirational of all time, some works of architects like Mario Botta and Steven Holl at least appear to have more substance, a deeper physical permanence. Where Frank Lloyd Wright and Calatrava point the way, others will come along and add weight and durability. My point being, even in a world where an architect must design a liveable, energy-efficient, green building that can withstand weather perhaps not yet seen by man, she must still retain and exhibit a core and spark of creative genius.

In the nineteenth century we looked to the skyline and saw steeples, and thought of God. In the twentieth century, we saw bank towers and thought of money and the good life.

In the twenty-first century, we will look to new city skylines for ingenuity and artistry, for composition and balance, for innovation and brilliance. Extreme Architects, bring it on!!!

Joseph Edward Trainor
July 15th, 2011
Toronto, Canada

Toronto Portlands competition - Architect David Butterworth, Visualization and Design Samuel Zeng

Izmir Opera House in Turkey, by Nuvist Architecture and Design

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