• 12.03.10

The Future of Design: Blue Is the New Green

Blue design creates places that are not just neutral in their take, but actually add back to our world.

The Future of Design: Blue Is the New Green

This is the first in our new “Future of Design” series featuring interviews with and columns by the architecture firm Perkins+Will. Below, we have a Q&A with Paul Eagle, managing director of Perkins+Will, New York; and Janice Barnes, principal and global discipline leader for planning and strategies.–Eds


What exactly is blue design?

Paul Eagle: The sustainable-design movement that is now becoming such an integral part of our life is really about designing places -? buildings, neighborhoods or cities -? by choosing materials and systems that do less harm to the environment. The green mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle” translates to minimizing the take from our planet while developing spaces where we live, work, and play. But even if we are taking less, we are still consuming.

Janice Barnes: The term ?green to blue” was actually coined by Bob Isherwood of Saatchi & Saatchi a couple of years ago at the Sustainable Brands International conference. Blue design creates places that are not just neutral in their take, but actually add back to our world. Consider the simplest example: a home that receives all the energy it consumes from PV cell panels or a geothermal unit would be applauded for its energy neutrality. But if that home added energy back to the neighborhood’s power grid from those PV cells, had a green roof planted with pollution?eating superplants that improved air and water quality in the local climate zone, and partitioned a part of the front lawn for a vegetable garden that contributed to the local food bank, we would have a single home that gave back to the greater community in three substantive ways.

[Janice Barnes]


How do you apply these ideas to more institutional buildings where the occupants might not tolerate that kind of flexibility?

Eagle: I’ll give you an example. Engineering and life sciences buildings for universities are being designed to incorporate natural and, in some cases, constructed wetlands as part of the site landscaping for the project. These installations both serve as laboratories for teaching and develop local ecosystems that provide a wildlife habitat for nesting and regeneration.

What do the owners get out of it?
Barnes: You can imagine the market position of developing spaces that do not just reduce energy and cost but actually create energy. Consider even that new revenue could be created from building types that otherwise would be only costing the client. This would result in more robust financial performance, expansion of the company, and greater job growth.

What does this systems approach mean for the design profession?

Barnes: The future of the profession will include a wide range of professionals including economists, biologists, chemists, and a range of social-science experts such as demographers, anthropologists and geographers. In smaller practices we will see extensive cross-training in disciplines. Clients will hire design consultants with the ability to both envision a design solution and quantify some sort of value on a “green to blue” spectrum. We might see this in smaller scale projects such as single-family residential or local community planning projects. Larger, more complex projects will require specialized expertise of a larger team where designers, engineers, energy specialists, and community advocates will all need to speak the same language.


[Paul Eagle]

So what will it mean to have “blue design” 15 years from now?

Eagle: We are already seeing simple examples of blue design such as fitness clubs where energy used is generated by treadmill and exercise bike usage. Another example is Alice Waters’s Edible Schoolyard program in Berkeley; a one-acre garden and kitchen classroom where students learn about, grow, and harvest healthy produce. These early prototypes represent a fundamental shift in how we — designers and architects — view the challenges of our projects. The measurement of successful design in the future will include the level of giveback the project generates for the intended users of the space as well as the greater global community.

[Top image by D Sharon Pruitt via Flickr]