ZED | Zegarra Environmental Designs

The Future of Design

The following essay was my entry for an IIDA competition which dealt with issues of sustainability and their impact on the world of design.

2010 will be remembered as the decade in which sustainability became the basis of the way we design our environments. My contribution throughout this decade will be to create spaces that are respectful of my client’s individual needs, without forgetting their effect on the environment and on future generations.

What is Sustainable Design?

According to The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), sustainable design “goes beyond being just efficient, attractive, on time and on budget. It is a design that cares about how such goals are achieved, about its effect on people and on the environment.” This decade, we have the power to transform the way we design the environments that inevitably surround us all, and doing so by thinking of the long term gains. As Daniel Gilbert points out in his book Stumbling upon Happiness, something that distinguishes us from animals is our ability to think about the future. This is important because thinking about the future is the foundation of sustainable design.

Evolution of Sustainable Design

I am hopeful for the future of sustainable design because I have already seen positive changes in our time. During the Industrial Revolution the world was concerned with an increase in the production of goods. Materials such as iron and steel were particularly relevant to architecture and design where society sought to erect buildings with the lowest cost to create the biggest space. It was crude calculation with little regard for the internal environment and the people working within them.

Today the effects of global warming, the damaging effects to the ozone layer, and an increase in the greenhouse effect, has ensued a shift in the social consciousness. Designers are increasingly interested in the sources of the materials they incorporate into their space and their longevity, where quality precedes quantity. In the same way interior designers now look after the well being of their clients. When they think of an office they think of it as their clients secondary home and have important design considerations such as indoor pollutants, ergonomics, employee satisfaction, stress, and sick building syndrome.

Sustainable Design and Economics

Looking in to the economics of sustainable design we can observe those European countries which design with a high initial monetary cost but with long-term environmental benefits. With a new administration in the White House these principals are finally being promoted in the United States with the objective of minimizing the countries dependence on foreign oil by investing on alternative energy and technology. Technologies implemented by architects and designers like solar panels, or efficient HVAC systems, window insulation, and light sensors can actually save money in the long run. These can be incorporated into buildings and make its use of energy more efficient.

Sustainable Design and Social Responsibility

As designers we are naturally passionate about human interaction within their environments, I feel this decade we will demonstrate our passion through social responsibility by minimizing our effect on the environment. Until this point designers and architects alike have come up with cutting edge projects and technology which embrace the principals of sustainability while reinventing how we experience our environments. For instance, California’s Academy of Sciences designed by Renzo Piano, or the San Francisco Federal Building, designed by Thom Mayne. In the same way interior designers have raised the bar by taking into account human factors of psychology and following LEED requirements. Our designs are mainly digital eliminating the excessive use of paper, our demands and those of our clients have forced manufacturers to think of the entire life cycle of their products. For instance carpet companies such as Miliken Flooring Company express their environmental commitment through their “No Carpet to Landfill” and “Earth Square” which focuses on recycling used carpets by evaluating all carpets that have reached the end of their life and assess the highest environmental value recovery possible. This is just one example of the several companies that are out there.

My Initiatives as a Designer

My background in International Development – and having have lived in the poorest country in South America – urges me to give back to the community and to our environment in some way or another. I believe that this is the decade of design because history proves that we are more conscientious about the world we live in. We have invented ways of being more efficient and sustainable in our designs, while also being cost effective in the longer term. Sustainability has finally gained traction in the design community. The spaces that facilitate human interaction with each other and the environment are imperative in creating a dialogue among citizens, policymakers, and interior designers. Together these groups are beginning to understand that when the elements of responsible design are incorporated into a modern design project, everybody wins.