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The 'Outdated Ethic' of Iconic Architecture

Many of the iconic structures designed by 'starchitects' are extravagant in their use of materials and the energy required to assemble them, writes Jack Diamond.
March 23, 2009, 2pm PDT | Michael Dudley
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"Many iconic buildings are a direct reflection of conspicuous consumption. Instead of exploring engineering, electrical, mechanical and materials technologies to determine the most economic systems, there is a flagrant disregard for cost. Excess is celebrated: the highest, most expensive, most dramatic. The pick-a-shape school of architecture. It isn't simply the money unnecessarily spent on construction, but the energy necessary to heat and cool the building, the steel used to build it.

You can build structures that are both dramatic and sustainable. Consider Buckminster Fuller's domes that were designed to have the smallest ratio of structural steel to the area enclosed or load supported. He was looking at an elegant way to use the least amount of material. Fifty years ago, he explored a dramatic and sustainable path to the future, a path followed by relatively few.

Architecture, in the new era, should exhibit commensurate responsibility. Buildings that were conceived essentially as advertisements for a company or a museum or a city are now advertising an outdated and unfortunate ethic. We need new standards for beauty, one that is gratifying environmentally, technically and functionally. Economy, a word that is re-entering our vocabulary with a vengeance, carries a stigma, but it shouldn't: There can be beauty in economy."

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Published on Monday, March 23, 2009 in The Globe and Mail
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