Dangerous ideas: Architecture in the age of ecology

Christian Anderson
February 23, 2005
man with white beard shows the palms of his hands
Emily Wiley

James Wines

James Wines, professor of architecture at Penn State, shared his views on "green architecture" for the February 23 conversation of Research Unplugged, the first session of the spring season.

Building on the themes of his most recent book, Green Architecture, Wines discussed the challenges of creating environmentally-friendly architecture. In addition to teaching, Wines is founder, president and creative director of SITE, an architecture and environmental arts organization in New York City that takes a multidisciplinary approach to the fields of architecture, interior design, environmental art, landscape architecture, and graphic design.

Wines fears that most architects are too focused on the aesthetics or functionality of their buildings without regard for how the buildings affect the environment. "The construction of human shelter consumes one third of the world's energy," said Wines. "This is of particular concern to the United States because Americans consume a disproportionate amount of the world's resources," he added.

According to Wines, there are several ways that a building can be "green." Referring to images of buildings and public spaces, he illustrated that several different styles and types can fit the definition of "green." Buildings that use renewable energy, such as solar or wind, buildings that use water and foliage for cooling, or buildings that are built into the earth in such a way as to minimize dependence on electricity are all examples of "green architecture." One building he showed during his presentation was literally wrapped in recycled water. "This piece of architecture engages all the senses," said Wines. "You can hear it, touch it, feel it, and smell it."

Wines also used examples of urban planning that allows for—or better yet, encourages—people to walk or ride bicycles as another important means for creating public space that helps preserve the environment. He specifically noted the university campuses in Irvine, California and Toronto, Canada.

An often overlooked aspect of green architecture is recycling buildings—renovating and retrofitting them for a new life, as Wines described it. "However, a building must be aesthetically pleasing to begin with for tenants to want to renovate," he said. "Architecture must never abandon its artistry so that buildings can have a longer life." He noted that his own building at Penn State (much to his chagrin) will be demolished this summer as his department is moved to a new facility.

Architecture—the buildings we use every day—is an integral part of our lives. As such, Wines believes that the creation and use of more "green" architecture in our buildings and public spaces is vital for our planet's sustainability and our local communities' health.

James Wines, B.A., is professor of architecture at Penn State and president of SITE, an architecture and environmental arts organization in New York City; juw3@psu.edu. Christian Anderson, cka108@psu.edu, is a graduate student in higher education. He is a member of the Research Unplugged Committee.

Last Updated February 23, 2005