Following up on my previous post regarding SLU development and the individuals behind what’s taking place, I got to thinking and reading a bit about architectural and development theory. One thought stood out to me about the idea that “form follows function”, a well-known principle associated with modernist architecture and industrial design. The principle is that the shape of a building or object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose. The man who coined this phrase, architect Louis Sullivan eventually developed the shape of a tall steel skyscraper in late 19th Century Chicago at the very moment when technology, taste and economic forces converged and made it necessary to drop the established styles of the past. While most university courses on architecture theory may often spend just as much time discussing philosophy and cultural studies as they will on buildings, we as a city in my opinion are now at a point in our city’s history where both developer intent and design functionality must come together for the betterment of our citizens. Technology and taste are most definitely converging at this point in time here in Seattle where the act of thinking, discussing, and developing real estate and the futuristic products our tenants create shape not only our city but the entire world.
Take for example Tesla, which will begin selling and installing its new home solar roofs later this year. Unveiling its solar roof product in late October, about a month before the company acquired SolarCity in a deal worth $2.1 billion, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said it looks “quite promising” that Tesla’s solar roof could actually be CHEAPER than a normal roof when factoring in the price of labor. Clearly his vision and intent here is to be both environmentally conscious, while attempting to not sacrifice product quality and cost. It remains to be seen however as to whether or not this product actually makes a profit for Tesla and truly provides a savings to the consumer, or whether they just announced another way to lose money.
Take this philosophy to the field of development, where The Living Building Challenge gives the possibility of environmentally sound development, but fails at this point in time to deliver the risk/reward parameters to a developer to make a project like this pencil out. The relation of “green” theory and sustainable design to the practice of building, and more importantly, the words and intent of developers, creators and environmentalists in this case barely makes reasonable sense….yet. It would take contractors, architects and engineers to donate a good portion of their time and effort to make a Living Building of considerable size work, without more than double the 15% bonus FAR you receive in the city of Seattle to attempt such a project. If the city’s intent is to reduce our carbon footprint and be one of the greenest cities in the country, something has to give and compromises need to be made. The LBC which describes itself as a “philosophy, advocacy platform, and certification program” forces developers to push material and labor requirements to the edge while aiming to meet a philosophy of sustainable design that no doubt many developers share. In the end, our buildings are of a place and of a culture, and of a design intent which while positive, can only be met in form when reasonable minds meet somewhere in the middle for the betterment of our city’s health and our rapid growth.