This week, I attended a panel discussion hosted by the Seattle Art Museum and by the Cascade Land Conservancy on how art, design and sustainability fit together. Lucia Athens, sustainable future strategist at CollinsWoerman, moderated the panel. Panelists were Tom Kundig of Olson Sundburg Kundig Allen Architects, Rebecca Luke, co-founder of the Sustainable Style Foundation and stylist, and Roy McMakin, Northwest artist.
The conversation twisted and turned around how sustainability intersects with art, style and architecture, but overall, all speakers said they wanted to create something that lasted. Whether it was art, a beautiful house, or a great dress, they said it was more sustainable to create or buy something you’d use forever, rather than something that you would dispose of in a year or a decade.
The problem with that is sustainability is so new it’s not always clear what is truly sustainable (for more on this, read a previous post here or look under the tag ‘greenwashing’ below). And for art and outfits, fashions come in and out of style. Kundig summed it up nicely when he said: “Culturally, we don’t understand the decisions we’re making now and what their larger effects are… architects don’t know yet what is truly sustainable and what is not.”
Sustainabilty also means different things in different locations. In nature, it’s about being light on the land and letting nature be the focus. But in the city, he said it’s more about density. In either space, Kundig said there are many conspiring issues that must be balanced from land use to environmental concerns to planning. “How they’re resolved is what we hope is good architecture.”
I love attending discussions that bring different disciplines together, because you often get tossed out of your comfort zone.
Roy McMakin was an interesting voice to have in on the panel. One of the impediments to becoming more sustainable, he said, is the tension between individual rights and the common good. It’s hard to come together and agree something is best for everyone, he said, when this country is founded on the individual being able to do what they think is best for them.
Another point McMakin made is that honestly, we could have everything we talk about in panel discussions – from more art in public places to more sustainable infrastructure – if we just agreed to tax ourselves more and give more of our income to the common good. But realistically, how many people in Seattle would vote to do that? He has a point.
Luke pointed out that it’s important to have different disciplines sharing information or working together on issues of sustainability, otherwise every industry ends up reinventing the wheel, which she said doesn’t need to happen. In her work with style, she said she tries to connect the experiences of different disciplines.
Unfortunately, all of these things cost money and require some serious investments. Buying a great dress that will last for years? Pricey. Buying a house designed by OSKA that reflects and respects the local environment? Pricey. Buying furniture that is art, which will become a family heirloom? Pricey. Sustainability, it seems, does not come cheap.
I leave you with this quote from McMakin: “Sustainability is partly the idea that it’s not ephemeral, it’s used for a long time … but we’re humans. We do stuff. We have ideas … I’m an artist. I want to create stuff but how do you deal with the impacts of what you do?”