Green Mormon Architect has an interesting post on the idea that "only beauty is sustainable," which I cannot link to because he has made his blog private. (GMA: wtf? I doubt being "green" or an "architect" is much reason to take a blog private. Must have something to do with the "Mormon" part....) He writes, "If the community doesn't embrace a building, the building will not be saved or preserved when the time comes. Unaesthetic buildings will not last and are unsustainable even if they have a LEED rating." He then provides a photo of the Mark Miller Toyota building in Salt Lake City, and it is indeed pretty damn hideously ugly despite its LEED gold rating. He adds, "I will be the first in line to tear this building down when the time comes." He notes that the SLC Library has no LEED rating, but is a beautiful, functional, inviting building, and adds, "I will be the first in line to preserve this building when the time comes."
Sustainability in relation to buildings generally refers to the amount of resources they use in their building and maintenance. You know: are renewable materials used responsibly in the construction of the structure? Are the environmental considerations of the building site reasonably attended to? Are energy-saving features incorporated into the design? Of course it's possible to attend to questions like that and still produce an ugly building. GMA's example of Mark Miller Toyota illustrates that perfectly well for me. I also have a feeling I might not be such a fan of the LDS church's new stake center in Farmington, despite the fact that it "is insulated with polyurethane foam, uses highly efficient windows, carpet made from recycled materials, tankless water heaters and European-style toilets that offer the choice of little or lots of water with each flush"-it still probably looks like an uninspired, unimaginative LDS building. Plus I'm guessing that those "highly efficient windows" don't provide for much light or ventilation, making the building as dark and stinky as most LDS buildings from the past 30 years generally are.*
I'm not entirely sure that ugliness is unsustainable--there's plenty of very old ugliness in the world--but I like to think that we might someday achieve a world where that's true. And while I believe in and support the goal of sustaining beauty, I want to discuss the challenges it involves.