STUDIO INSIGHT - THE SMITH STUDIO
"Truly sustainable design happens early in the process using a multidisciplinary collaborative approach"
It seems that sustainable design is becoming an overused and under practiced term. Most people agree that the world needs to change its behavior, but are we doing all we can? How can innovative site design reduce the environmental impact of development while improving social and cultural connectivity? The answers lies within a truly collaborative, engaging approach – inclusive of all design disciplines.
In a recent project team meeting for a community planning assignment, this very discussion ensued between EDSA, our developer client and a civil engineer. The conclusion was to address two very simple, yet impactful elements: water and paving.
Regardless of climate or geography, water use, re-use and treatment are among the most important issues in real estate development. Our goal must be to reduce daily household consumption through more efficient appliances and by altering behaviors with new incentives to reduce use of potable water for irrigation. As for the reduction of impervious (paved) zones, decreasing street width by at least one foot and sidewalks by six inches will have a huge impact across an entire development. Not only will this lessen runoff, but it also reduces carbon footprints and development costs.
Places that add social, environmental and economic value to society serve as exemplary precedents and reminders of what can be achieved with good planning. Such real estate developments and outdoor spaces are created through a process that starts with a distinctive vision and stated purpose – much before pencil is ever placed to paper or brick to mortar.
EDSA believes that having a clear, well-thought-out and well-delineated vision at the onset of an assignment is critical to a project’s strategic success and long term sustainability. Before anything happens, existing communities, key stakeholders, public officials, land owners, property developers and design consultants must define a vision that anticipates how a real estate endeavor will positively change the status quo. Visioning is not a roadmap – that's the purpose of planning – but rather a set of defined goals and expectations stated in a clear and simple way to describe why the project deserves to exist.
A successful visioning process results from answering some basic, but critical questions. What is the anticipated end result? Who will the end users be? How will they thrive in the places we help create? How will people, environment and economy benefit in the short-term and the long-term? What will the legacy of this project be? The point being, a planning and design process starts from a series of ideas and goals that focus on results.
Throughout our history, EDSA has orchestrated and facilitated Visioning Workshops as a master-planning and consensus-building tool. Through this process, we aim to understand the lifestyle, values, intent and purpose of a project as we collaborate to assess and establish a unified vision for development. This abbreviated, yet intense step in the design process is oriented toward providing efficient, focused solutions. When possible, it should involve a team of experts to address economic, environmental, political, market and social tendencies. It can also involve on-site design studies to identify site opportunities and constraints, infrastructure needs, circulation patterns, land use relationships and other key indicators or potential program elements from which to build the vision. This introspective process results in foundational design drivers and a phased program approach for master planning and design to proceed. It typically culminates in an on-site presentation to the client.
The Visioning Process influences the design strategy by aligning and defining the client’s or stakeholder group’s philosophy, thus setting the course for an informed and successful project design process and implementation.
It has always been our goal, through the dissemination of this e-communication, to provide you with valuable insights, cutting-edge concepts and thought provoking perspectives to spark innovative ideas and creative strategies.
With the onset of the New Year, many of you are doing some extra imagining, planning and creating; so it seems only natural that we would have researched numerous development, design and technology trends and culmed them down to a handful that are begging to be applied in the next 12 months. Here’s what caught our eye:
Geographic Expansion: Although disposable income continues to rise in Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC countries), developers should also consider markets such as Burma, Cambodia and Vietnam, as well as other high-potential countries such as Turkey, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and South Korea.
Speaking Visual: We’re shifting to a visual vocabulary that relies on photos, emojis, video snippets and other imagery – largely supplanting the need for text. “Visual” is a new lingo that needs to be mastered and incorporated into how, where and why we communicate.
The End of Anonymity: Thanks to an array of new technologies and a growing drive to collect personal data, it’s becoming nearly impossible to remain unobserved. As anonymity becomes more elusive, expect pushback from consumers. The challenge will be finding a balance between the very real benefits of data collection and utilization, with earning the trust of increasingly “hacked-off” consumers.
Made Greener By/For China: Perceptions of China will take a significant turn as consumers realize that China is quickly becoming the epicenter of truly innovative and superior “green consumer” initiatives. That shift will be driven by China’s relentless large-scale efforts to address massive environmental challenges such as energy, transport, construction and social interface.
Mindful Living: Consumers are developing a quasi-Zen desire to experience everything in a more present, conscious way. Once the domain of the spiritual set, mindful living is filtering into the mainstream with more people drawn to the idea of shutting out distractions and focusing on the moment. This will have profound effects on how people live, work, learn and play.
Better Is Better: Typically trends aren't made to last, but there is an emergent movement toward making things better and longer lasting. Bigger used to be better, but today, better is better – meaning more effective planning and efficiency of use. With consumers being more cost-conscious than ever, this intuitive simplicity is leading the design charge.
We welcome your reactions, thoughts and questions to these trends as well as all future editorial content presented. Please feel free to email us at email@example.com.
Eco-Conscious Consumer Psyche
Savvy consumers are lovers of stuff – sleek gadgets, iconic furniture pieces and chic abodes. Consumption is based on what their pocketbooks allow and dictated by trends, product availability and technological innovation. More and more, consumers are becoming eco-conscious as they opt for green alternatives – purchasing energy-star rated, efficient appliances, organic threads and locally grown foods.
From a design perspective, what is bought is often less important than how and why consumers choose to buy what they do. What, where, and how people buy makes a statement about their identity and the type of person they are, or would like to be. Contrary to popular belief, most of us don’t weigh the full costs and benefits of our purchasing decisions. Instead, we are strongly influenced by emotional factors, the behavior of others and our own habits – tending to not use all of the information available. The undeniable fact is that impulse buys make up nearly 75 percent of today’s consumer spending where a purchase serves far more than just a functional need.
At EDSA we challenge you to join us in creating a smarter, more sustainable world. Based on an increasing emotional desire to make eco-friendly purchasing decisions, how can we make more informed decisions to live a greener lifestyle?
Start by calculating your Ecological Footprint using http://www.earthday.org/footprint-calculator or a similar assessment tool. The result is a rough estimate of resources expended in relation to the biological capacity of the planet. These results are largely based on the products we consume, our behaviors surrounding these products and the spaces we inhabit. Let’s all work to reduce our impact and educate others on protecting the planet.
Change is not about modifying needs, it’s about adjusting values. Do you believe in recycling, but throw away used appliances and electronics? Buy organic produce but let food go to waste by not eating leftovers? Passionate about saving resources, but don’t cut down on driving? Carry a cloth bag to the grocery store, but fill it with disposable, overly packaged products? We must all make a commitment to practice what we preach, lead by example and encourage cohorts to do the same. Here are our top suggestions to get the ball rolling:
- There is a tendency to limit product lifecycles and unnecessarily replace items we consume (i.e., refrigerators, vacuums and home furnishings). Taking time to maintain possessions is always more efficient than consuming an entirely new product.
- While we’re busy surfing the web, listening to our ipods and twittering away, it’s all too easy to lose track of the energy these devices consume. Pull the plug on gear not currently in use. Computer adapters, appliances and even cell phone chargers constantly suck up energy so long as they remain plugged in.
- Don’t complacently rely on technology. Energy efficient appliances will not scold you for running the dishwasher when it’s half full. Your LEED certified home will not prevent you from keeping your thermostat at 80 degrees in the winter and 55 in the summer. You have to do these things yourself.
- Cut down on commute times by choosing to move closer to employment or offer telecommuting to employees. Seek out teleconferences rather than attending in person. Downsize your vehicle and use mass transit whenever possible. And, don’t forget to bike, walk and use human power to propel you where you need to go, whenever possible.
- Since the 1970s’ the average American home has grown by more than 500 square feet, while the average family size has decreased. This incongruity should signal that our want for space has surpassed our needs. Consider how well you can live by living small. Design spaces to be multifunctional, de-clutter and tear down walls to let in natural light.
The need to conserve natural resources is not a temporary situation and therefore demands lasting changes in how we live, work and play. It’s time to make a difference regarding our personal dependence on energy and natural resources. We encourage you to share these environmental values by emphasizing the importance of action to those around you.
Healthy Lifestyle Design
Everyone agrees that eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly and effectively coping with stress is beneficial to the body and mind. But pause to consider, that links between the health of our global population and health of the environment are also undeniable. In the United States, life expectancy has increased by approximately 40 years since 1900. Only seven of those years can be attributed to improvements in disease care while the rest are the result of improved prevention efforts (such as immunizations) and improved environmental conditions.
By definition, the our environment includes all that is external to us as individuals – the air we breathe, the water we drink and use, the land and built structures that surround us – in essence, all natural and human-formed conditions. Simply put, the way we design and build our communities also affects our physical and mental health.
Supporting this theory is a recent report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that describes a healthy community as one that continuously creates and improves both its physical and social environments by helping people support one another in all aspects of daily life. We can therefore conclude that design plays a pivotal role in creating and fostering quality of life where people can live, work, worship, learn and play and are free to make choices amid a variety of healthy, available, accessible and affordable options.
We have seen first-hand the profound influence environment can have on public-health, as noted in some of our healing gardens and hospital work. We know and understand how comfort, natural light, clear circulation patterns, views to the outside, access to well-conceived landscapes and a relaxing atmosphere promotes patient healing. In parallel, people who live near parks and public open space tend to be more physically active. Related studies confirm that older urban residents live longer if they have places to walk, tree-lined streets and access to parks.
Lifestyle-based design integrates health strategies into housing, urban development, land use, transportation, industry, recreation and food source/agriculture decisions. These decisions in turn influence neighborhood configuration, housing design, parks, location of stores and schools and residual factors such as traffic density and air/water quality. For today and for the future, health must be an explicit component of planning.
Decisions about development density, mix of uses, architectural massing, access to food sources and physical connectivity affect peoples’ physical health and psychological well-being. In well-designed communities, the overall social fabric is strengthened by connecting people to means of livelihood, education, recreation, culture and other resources. Integrated natural areas can further bolster a sense of community by drawing people together and enhancing social connections.
At EDSA, we continue to refine the definition of healthy lifestyle as related to ‘next’ practices in our planning and design work. We view very assignment as an opportunity to combine past experience with today’s leading applications in the creation of healthy and sustainable living environments.