Friday, January 23, 2009

Museum + LEED Friday: a better green?

green exhibits, green building, gyroscope, LEED, Sustainable Design, Environmental Design, maria mortati Hi, Scott posting... I'm looking for a better way to describe "green design" specifically for museum exhibits. My problem with "green" is in part due to the way it seems to be flung around with such recklessly abandon. It is a adjective, it is a verb, it will make all your dreams come true. It has become a loose buzz word to describe something that I think could benefit from some specificity. "Sustainable Design" is a great description because it actually means something - to design objects and environments that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs. (this is my attempt to paraphrase a slightly convoluted wikipedia definition) One of the greatest powers of this concept is the way it is applicable to divergent industries and disciplines. Architects, economists and biologists now have a shared set of values and language which is going to be critical in creating the type of change we need. The only shortcoming I have with "Sustainable Design" its that is tends to focus on what is being designed and it's environmental impact and ignores the way it will be experienced. Museum exhibit design is especially powerful because it includes both the visitor's experience and the object or environment. "Environmental Design" may come closer to describing this approach that includes what we design, how it is experienced, and our impact on nature. In my version of "Environmental Design" I am going to let the word environment slide in scale from the immediate all the way out to the global environment. The experience of our immediate environment is a complex overlap of our senses, culture, previous experience, and context. As exhibit designers, we work with these factors to try to create rich experiences. If you slide out in scale, the environment becomes the social space of a museum. Within this environment, the designer can be working with the factors that shape your immediate environment as well as social patterns and group dynamics to create the social experiences that distinguish a trip to the museum from something you can do at home. Finally, a designer is working in and impacting things at the scale of the natural environment. At this scale a designer has a personal impact by designing sustainably as well as a secondary impact when you consider the ways that museums provide experiences that can lead to insights that can lead to changes. This brings content into the conversation and connects back to the immediate environment of the visitor's experience. In this model the visitor's experience and sustainable design are driven by the same objectives: putting people at the center, focusing on their experience and making decisions mutually beneficial to them, the social environment, and the broader natural environment. Now to tell you the truth, "Environmental Design" doesn't work very well to describe all that. While it is helpful that I am able to distort "environment" to fit my meaning, it also means the word lacks the clarity needed. And "Environmental Design" does nothing to conjure the convoluted thought path I just went down. Do you have a good alternative to "green"? Or even a good defense of it? I'd love to hear all about it.

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