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Architecture and the Environmental Impact of Artificial Complexity – Common Edge

Needless intricacies in building designs waste natural resources. Architects must do better.

Michael Huston
Michael Huston

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here is an astonishing degree of complexity, order, and beauty in the natural world. Even so, and especially within the realm of living things, nothing is more complex than it needs to be to sustain its existence. Every aspect of the system serves a purpose. If it does not, the unneeded component eventually ceases to exist in future generations. Even with these constraints of resource and energy efficiency, we find boundless beauty and harmony in the natural world. Contrast nature’s “just the right amount of complexity” to the way many architects design buildings today. While nature is only as complex as it needs to be, architects and designers add excessive and inessential complexity to their buildings and landscapes when none is warranted.

Contemporary architecture is riddled with artificial complexity, resulting in buildings that strain the environment, deplete resources, and compromise the most basic function of sheltering inhabitants from the elements. Buildings that contort, pop up and down, are split in the middle, and engage in all other manner of geometric gymnastics have very little—and, often, nothing—to do with the function, economy, or beauty of the building. Despite that, this type of complexity has long been seen as the designer’s prerogative, a creative and ego-driven self-expression that has been championed by most architecture schools and romantic notions of what it means to be an architect.

Let me be clear: Complexity itself is not the problem; rather, it is the irrational and arbitrary forms that complicate structure and compromise building integrity that I am calling into question. While artificial complexity may be more visible in modern buildings, traditional architecture is not immune to its influence; “McMansions” and “McMain Streets” are traditional expressions of artificial complexity, with their mountain-range roofs and overly repetitive facade articulations. But artificial complexity is not limited to the work of starchitects—it pervades even the humblest of buildings, from warehouses to affordable housing.

Source: Architecture and the Environmental Impact of Artificial Complexity – Common Edge

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