Design Excellence vs. Environmental Performance

Design Excellence vs. Environmental Performance

Trent Johnson
Aug 3, 2010

Vanity Fair recently surveyed 90 leading architects and asked them to identify the "greatest buildings of the last 30 years" for its August issue architectural A-List. In response, Lance Hosey of Architect Magazine surveyed 150 green building experts and advocates to compile his own G-list (Green List). You'd have hoped there would be more overlap between the two lists, but there seems to be a divide between the standards of design excellence and environmental performance.

Lance Hosey's survey asked 150 green building experts and advocates to name "the five most-important green buildings since 1980," using whatever criteria they liked. The first 52 responses yielded 121 unique projects, with 18 receiving more than a few votes each. The top building—the Adam Joseph Lewis Center in Oberlin, Ohio—received 13 votes followed closely by one of my personal favorites, the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco with 11 votes. See the entire list at Architect Magazine.

What was surprising is that not a single building from the Vanity Fair's A-list appears on Hosey's G-list. This is especially surprising since there were specific categories asking for the single-best building since 1980, and separately, since 2000. With the increasing prevalence of green buildings perpetuated by LEED certification and the popularity and excitement garnered by green buildings, I would have guessed (or maybe hoped) that at at minimum one building on Vanity Fair's A-list would have been duplicated on Hosey's G-list.

Perhaps there's merely a disconnect between the opinions of the green builders and architects and that of conventional architectural thinking, but that seems hard to believe since green buildings have been around long before LEED launched 10 years ago. Architects like Richard Neutra have been incorporating the principles behind green design for decades and have some famous buildings to show for it.

This isn't to say that there aren't any green buildings on Vanity Fair's list, just none that are represented on Hosey's G-list. For example, the Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing was named more than once, and other notable buildings on the list incorporated plenty of green building practices.

What's your take? Why is there a disconnect between the architectural marvels chosen by Vanity Fair's surveyed architects and the most important green buildings as chosen by Hosey's surveyed green experts?

(Images: Lake Flato Architects)

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