By Maureen Patterson
Every day in my job, I encounter two streams of thought: high-tech multimedia and sustainability. Most of the multimedia projects involve display, lighting, and other electronic technologies. Most of the "green" projects involve saving energy through control and efficiency.
ARCHI-TECH is a technology magazine for architects, and my job is to inform the architectural community of the best technological innovation happening in the field. Technology is fascinating, and it's moving the field of architecture farther forward than any of us can even imagine right now. It's incredible.
Yet, as a person who cares deeply about the earth and its present and future inhabitants, I have morally questioned the value of promoting technology if it comes at the expense of using too much energy, too much of the earth's valuable resources.
But does it? I wondered if my assumption was correct, and I asked dozens of people this question: Can a high-tech building be sustainable? I learned that yes, it certainly can. In fact, the people most knowledgeable discarded the relevance of electronics in the equation.
Sustainability involves much more than electronics. It's about good basic design principles. It's about reducing a building's overall environmental footprint. There are many ways to do this, with some amazing examples found in the stories Performance-driven Innovation and Force of Nature.
What does "high tech" really mean? Many people think of it as "wow" factor gadgetry that startles the senses: video walls with dazzling content, screens that bend and twist, LEDs with a dizzying array of graphics.
There's more to it than that. High tech means innovation, and innovation can be anything. It can be a narrow floor plate for ventilation. It can be natural lighting tempered with high-performance glazing. It can be collecting water for cooling. All of these are high-tech sustainable technologies.
I'll grant you that such high technology may not bedazzle like an LED-fronted façade. The public will not get excited about natural ventilation. But buildings must be built beyond the initial "wow." They must be built with a broader social consciousness in mind.
Sustainability means more than turning off the lights. It might mean not even needing them in the first place.