The idea of sustainability in architecture has been kicking around for years. Never mind that most of us haven't got the slightest idea what it means. For architects, who seem to interact in a subtle, theoretical world that makes perfect sense to them, it's all in a day's work.
Richard Gianini-Rugg has his own way of defining the notion. "Sustainable architecture uses materials that have a low impact on earth, use little energy, create fewer toxic materials or waste in production or do not contain harmful chemicals," he explains. "That's where it starts and ends in the popular press." But he intimates that architects are looking for a more compassionate and less pre-packaged way of bringing the man-made structures they design to terms with nature and the environment. He's one of ten regional architects joining together for What Does Architecture Sustain?, an exhibit opening Friday at the Boulder Public Library. Each hopes to engage the public with his own solutions.
Gianini-Rugg takes an ancient approach: "My part will be based on the questions: How do we feel our place in the universe? How do natural rhythms and forces help us to feel our place on earth, therefore making us more grounded?" He'll exhibit plans from a New Mexico home he designed not only to act as a passive solar-energy collector, but also to function as a sundial and solar calendar. Concerned with healing the human spirit, he says, "We're beginning to realize how being stuck in little boxes with artificial light causes us to suffer mentally, psychologically and spiritually. Architecture can address that problem very directly. This is one aspect of how architecture can help sustain our survival."
The natural approach also appeals to architect Jim Logan and sculptor Sherry Wiggins, a husband-wife team who have created an art installation for the show based on images of buildings as objects in nature. Within a wedge-shaped, muslin-walled space, they'll project images of rocks, sky, grasses and words that reflect off suspended sheets of mirror and glass. "All of these images and words and architectural forms are interrelated," says Wiggins.
Boulder architect David Barrett will concentrate on similar interrelations by displaying images from three of his firm's diverse projects. Included are plans for a Benedictine abbey, a Venezuelan windsurfing resort technologically modeled on the inner workings of a cactus plant, and an experiential school for at-risk kids.
Barbara Ambach's display documents a proposal for an addition/renovation to the classic art moderne Denver City and County Annex building, where city records are kept. One of her ideas is to add solar-energy collectors. "It's about how architecture can seamlessly integrate information and technology through new material applications, where, literally, the materiality of the building will be for the collecting and disseminating of energy and information," she says. "Instead of being a mute container, the building becomes an active participant."
Ambach hopes this will be the first of many collaborative exhibits by architects. "Architecture is not only about how you build, but also about why you build the way you do," she says. "Our intention is that people would see that the places they use every day and take for granted are much more layered in their potential. There's so much more to architecture then four walls and a floor."
What Does Architecture Sustain?, April 3-May 1, Boulder Public Library Exhibit Space, 1000 Canyon Blvd., 441-3100. Opening reception, April 3, 5-7 p.m.