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Through Emerald-colored Glasses ...

The tension between improved building performance and aesthetics has never been under greater scrutiny than in today’s design and construction marketplace. This was highlighted recently in the outrage voiced by some readers of GreenSource magazine for the editorial decision to put a high-rise building with continuous concrete slabs running from interior to exterior on the cover of the February 2010 issue. Effectively creating a heat-bridge whereby the structure will radiate heat into the cold night air, this design decision is seemingly in direct conflict with performance goals. On the other hand, it does arguably create an elegant formal solution.

In the March+April 2010 issue, the editor defends the decision to feature the project:  “We’ve seen lots of gray boxes that satisfy all the equations, get all the possible ‘points’, but whose uninspired architecture makes us groan.” This plea for a balanced approach is a sentiment echoed later in the magazine by the owner of one of the case-study projects featured in the issue: “You have to remember, it’s not signature architecture at any cost, or energy efficiency and sustainability at the expense of the functioning of the building or the staff. All these things have to work together.”

We couldn’t agree more, and at Perry Dean we believe that it is a both/and solution rather than an either/or solution when it comes to building performance and aesthetics. In our work on campuses across the country, we must always respond to the strong context set in place by the institution (cultural, physical, and behavioral), all the while negotiating the line between aesthetics and performance. A consistent theme in our internal workshops on how we can improve our sustainable design efforts, we return to converging themes of performance and aesthetics rather than choosing one over the other.