A DOCTRINE OF SUSTAINABILITY


A DOCTRINE OF SUSTAINABILITY

 Gerould Wilhelm

Director of Research

Conservation Research Institute

185 S. York

Elmhurst, IL 60126

Revised November 2011

There are at least seven First Principles that must be attended in all design programs, if we really are to sustain the ability for next generations to have at least as many choices for free, clean, and healthful living as we have. A principal is a statement with which no one among those interested in or accountable for the design and construction [colloquium] would disagree. Each specific design program or circumstance will have additional governing First Principles, which must be discovered by and institutionalized by the colloquium.

I. THE EXTENT TO WHICH EACH GENERATION HAS THE FREEDOM TO DRAW UPON PERSPECTIVE, OBSERVATION, AND ACCRUED WISDOM IS THE EXTENT TO WHICH IMPERFECT UNDERSTANDINGS AND THE VAGARIES OF PLACE AND CIRUMSTANCE CAN BE ADDRESSED AND INCORPORATED.

It is an inevitable fact that no design occurs in a context vacuum. Rather, neighboring programs, venues, or watersheds have an interest in what transpires in a non- abstract landscape or place. So, ambient interests are part of the colloquium. All members of the colloquium must work to free themselves of prideful, prejudicial agendas, as well as tactical predispositions. Any zoning rules or local ordinances must be so written and attended that openness and flexibility can serve the public good and spirit of the structure. Laws written yesterday, even if brilliant, articulate, and well conceived for their time, are likely to warrant  reconsideration to account for changing times, technologies, and understandings. Any political context in which the governing authorities are focused on their own power, influence, and the service of their “friends”, of course, is inherently unstable in the long run, so any discussion of sustainability under those circumstances is strenuous. Adherence to constitutional first principles at all levels of governance is crucial if political accountability within the colloquium is to pertain.

II.  Accrued understanding of sustained ways of living and technologies, along with an operational ethic, when inculcated in our children, will be passed along to their children.

However clever and brilliant our strategic and tactical applications to sustainable design might be, we must be aware that, at any given point in time, they are always nascent and imperfect—always coming into being.  What is important is the ethics that drive the solutions and the metrics to assess the implementations for modifications of the next iterations.

Elders are keepers of wisdom, the middle ones are the practitioners of tried and true ways, and children are the innovators with energy and naïveté to move us forward.  We must have all three, but the circle begins again with each new child.

Only the child, if well ensconced in the ethic of community and accrued knowledge, can take what is known, learn from the masters, and carry on with imagination and alacrity.  Without loved and cherished children, all of our brilliant and creative tactics and strategies toward “sustainability” will sublimate from solid into thin air.

III. That which is loved is perceived as beautiful, that which is beautiful is loved.

People who love what they do are motivated less by pecuniary remuneration and more by the act of creating that of which they are proud, and in which their soul and love are reflected in great beauty.  This love and beauty is perceived by others.  The Greeks understood that that which is loved is perceived as beautiful, and that that which is beautiful is loved and cared for; it’s chances for endurance quite strong.

Sears bungalow built in 1926.

Sears bungalow built in 1927.

Not that long ago, buildings and infrastructure were designed and built by craftsman.  Construction drawing sets were relatively small and things were made to be beautiful and lovable. Unless torn asunder by Philistines, these structures are loved and admired today by people who, as children, had acquired the visceral attributes that enable beauty and quality to move the soul.

It’s obvious these two Craftsman Bungalows were well designed and are loved and well cared for today.

E. C. Alft, Old Elgin, A Pictorial History

This was the first building in Elgin built exclusively for postal services.  It was opened in 1902 and enlarged by additions in 1910, and 1928.  True, it’s not handicap accessible, but what a magnificent building!

Built of stone, with Corinthian columns, a cornice-line balustrade, and arched windows, I would define it as Roman or Classical Revival, a popular choice for public buildings since the founding of the Republic.  “It was natural to have taken Rome as a model, with its Republican ideas and monumental architecture, a choice that symbolized the mood and politics of the new nation.”            Virginia & Lee McAlester, A Field Guide to American Houses

 

Think Monticello–with its Ionic columns, cornice-line balustrade, and arched windows.  Thomas Jefferson was the most influential architect in our new country  to promote this classical ideal.

I’m not suggesting that we should still be building Classical Revival buildings, but I am  suggesting that government buildings should be beautiful and well-built.

The old post office was vacated in 1966 and demolished in 1969, replaced by a small park in which I’ve never seen anyone.  I don’t know if an adapted re-use for the building was ever explored.

This building replaced the old post office in 1966.  If and when it is ever torn down, no one will mourn its passing.

 

Today, buildings and infrastructure require construction document sets of enormous length, written carefully to assure that even the most unskilled, low-bid contractor can negotiate simple, bullet-proof, albeit ugly, unlovable productions.  Such products may have the “latest” in “green technologies,” but they will be torn down in a heartbeat if some subtle perception of even temporary financial gain would suggest its destruction.  Children who grow up amid soullessness and ugliness will be inclined to accept the ugly and have immature souls.  Each child who grows up amid great beauty is inclined to be motivated to exercise his inborn gift and become a soulful practitioner of beauty.

 

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5 Responses to A DOCTRINE OF SUSTAINABILITY

  1. Chuck Keysor February 4, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    Pat, I agree the old post office was beautiful, and the “new” post office is devoid of any visual or artistic merit. I will note though, that I do see people in the park (Carlton Rogers Park I think). Unfortunately, they are homeless people, sleeping on the benches. Chuck

    • PatHill February 4, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

      A mistake all the way around.

  2. Suzanne Massion February 7, 2013 at 7:24 pm #

    I remember a long effort (during the 1980s,I think)to save the Pinkerton mansion in west Dundee. It was the original home of the founder of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, a fascinating part of American history. The battle was eventually lost, an entire hillside was dug out including much of a city block,and a modern bank was constructed. To this day, I wish I could still visit the Pinkerton residence with its connection to history, even the underground railway. Ah well.

  3. Pat Hill February 7, 2013 at 8:13 pm #

    Historic Preservation was getting started in the late seventies, but we lost so much before that and in the transition period. It just makes one sick! Things are better now–many buildings have been saved, but some are still lost.

  4. Penny Griffin February 16, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    Maybe we need to inspire and educate young craftsman. Through mentoring.

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