Friday, February 3, 2012

authenticity and sustainability


not false or copied; genuine; real: an authentic antique.
having the origin supported by unquestionable evidence; authenticated; verified: an authentic document of the  Middle Ages; an authentic work of the old master.
entitled to acceptance or belief because of agreement with known facts or experience; reliable; trustworthy: an authentic report on poverty in Africa.
Law . executed with all due formalities: an authentic deed.

1300–50;  < Late Latin authenticus  < Greek authentikós  original,primary, at first hand, equivalent to authént ( ēs ) one who doesthings himself ( aut- aut-  + -hentēs  doer) + -ikos -ic;  replacingMiddle English autentik  (< Anglo-French ) < Medieval Latinautenticus

Authenticity, brand and ‘do as I say, not as I do.’

Filtering Brandscapes through a St. Louis lens…

Anna Klingmann’s Brandscapes cites a NAHB study, which shows “an apparent contradiction between the choices individual consumers make when buying a home and their recommendations for smart growth policies.” (P287) She goes on to say “what most homebuyers want, in essence, is the biggest possible house in the least developed place.”

Survey citations include that only 27% wish they lived closer to work, only 9% wished they were closer to public transportation, while only 1 in 20 wished they were closer to the city. 64%, however, wished they had a larger house.

More from Klingmann’s book: “Overall a majority of consumers seek out single-family detached housing in a community of people of similar background and income, explicitly rejecting housing with mixed-income residents, urban proximity and social variety – values generally propagated by planners and architects.”    (P 288)

Traditional architecture is what most people want. Size and security (it seems to be that St. Louisans associate security with location) seem to be trump cards, so most market-rate, developer driven projects respond to prevailing notions of what will sell. This is usually the opposite of what architects and designers would like to see – it is the continuation of sprawl.

Eventually though,’ successful developments’ are repeated with such frequency that they become tired clichés and their run comes to an end. Klingmann sees branding as a way to end this cycle by re-marrying the left brain of the developer and the right brain of the architect into a cohesive unit. (Nice work if you can get it!) She also indicates that ‘signature’ buildings by ‘starchitects’ based on visibility and publicity are not enough – she concludes that the market value of housing…”must engage in a creative dialogue that connects to a broader segment of the population. Instead of simply presenting a glittering surface, architecture must project a three dimensional personality, with inconsistencies and imperfections…When the external appearance of a building aligns with its internal culture the brand resonates with authenticity.” (P 309)

Klingmann sees ‘branding’ with positive connotations that I find difficult to endorse. In her residential branding section is a subsection titled: “The Brand Called ‘You.’” From a philosophical perspective this seems to confuse ‘branding’ with ‘being.’ It is the co-opting of Sartre’s maxim: l'existence précède l'essence by those who want to use it to inspire people to buy things. This does not surprise me.

The rise of mid-century modern architecture enthusiasts in St. Louis is an indication that we have reached the end of another cycle. This is, in part, due to a need/desire for a feeling of authenticity and uniqueness that many homebuyers value, but cannot find around the next cul-de-sac of mcmansions with options a, b, and c for master bedroom layout.

The crash in the real estate market (about the time Klingmann’s book was published) and the slight move into focus of sustainability initiatives might indicate a shift in zoning (St. Louis County’s initiative) and performance (the city and county adopting the 2009 IECC). Alas, this does not represent a majority of potential homebuyers, but it does represent the governmental changes their elected officials have introduced.

St. Louis has an interesting segment of its population ready for something different, some combination of elements that work together in different ways and help their inhabitants accomplish goals not previously thought compatible. It is interesting to witness.

I started this post, as I often do, with a definition.

Given what we know about energy efficiency, climate change and other factors related to sustainability can anyone be in a position to make ‘authentic choices’ about their home environment without considering environmental impact?

In a sense, none of us is in a position to question the authenticity of the decisions made by those around us, but more importantly, none of us is in a position NOT to question the authenticity of the decisions we make.