Michael Mehaffy & Nikos Salingaros

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Ten New Findings From the Sciences that Will Revolutionize Architecture

In their latest book Design for a Living Planet: Settlement, Science, and the Human Future, Michael Mehaffy and Nikos Salingaros examine recent developments in science that will inform and possibly even radically alter the future of architecture. The following is an adapted series of excerpts that summarizes the content of the book.

Architecture has always concerned itself with the future, and with the implications of findings from the sciences — as well as their practical applications to architectural craft. Today we do indeed see very exotic computer-designed aesthetic surfaces, splined forms, and generative schemes. To a non-scientist, this work might appear ultra-scientific and “modern”. We also see the symbolism of a turbulent, fractured Universe, wherein old ideas of meaning are facing anguishing post-modern challenges.

But from a modern physicist’s perspective, this architecture is still mired in the past.

Why Green Architecture Hardly Ever Deserves the Name

7 World Trade Center / SOM. Image © Ruggero Vanni.
7 World Trade Center / SOM. Image © Ruggero Vanni.

The following article, by Michael Mehaffy & Nikos Salingaros, originally appeared in Metropolis Mag as "Why Green Often Isn't"

Something surprising has happened with many so-called “sustainable” buildings. When actually measured in post-occupancy assessments, they’ve proven far less sustainable than their proponents have claimed. In some cases they’ve actually performed worse than much older buildings, with no such claims. A 2009 New York Times article, “Some buildings not living up to green label,” documented the extensive problems with many sustainability icons. Among other reasons for this failing, the Times pointed to the widespread use of expansive curtain-wall glass assemblies and large, “deep-plan” designs that put most usable space far from exterior walls, forcing greater reliance on artificial light and ventilation systems.

Partly in response to the bad press, the City of New York instituted a new law requiring disclosure of actual performance for many buildings. That led to reports of even more poor-performing sustainability icons. Another Times article, “City’s Law Tracking Energy Use Yields Some Surprises,” noted that the gleaming new 7 World Trade Center, LEED Gold-certified, scored just 74 on the Energy Star rating — one point below the minimum 75 for “high-efficiency buildings” under the national rating system. That modest rating doesn’t even factor in the significant embodied energy in the new materials of 7 World Trade Center.

What's going on with these supposedly "sustainable" buildings? Read on, after the break...

Designers Don't Get Science (And That's A Dangerous Thing)

This article, by Michael Mehaffy and Nikos Salingaros, originally appeared in Metropolis Mag as "Science for Designers: The Meaning of Complexity."

Today’s designers seem to love using new ideas coming from science. They embrace them as analogies, metaphors, and in a few cases, tools to generate startling new designs. (Computer algorithms and spline shapes are a good recent example of the latter.) But metaphors about the complexity of the city and its adaptive structures are not the same thing as the actual complexity of the city. The trouble is, this confusion can produce disastrous results. It can even contribute to the slow collapse of an entire civilization. We might think that the difference between metaphor and reality is so obvious that it’s hardly worth mentioning. And yet, such confusion pervades the design world today, and spreads from there into the general culture. It plays a key role in the delusional expectation that metaphors will create reality.

Psychiatrists speak of this as an actual disorder known as “magical thinking”: if our symbols are good enough, then reality will follow. In the hands of designers, this is very dangerous stuff. 

More after the break...