Beauty in High Performance Integrated Design

An appreciation for beauty connects all human beings, yet the diversity of what is considered beautiful is larger than any one mind can comprehend. It is a magnificent paradox.

In part, nature defines beauty. There are universal measures that are inherent in nature, such as the golden ratio and the golden spiral.

Often, beauty is dependent on an understanding of climate. Early Santa Fe is beautiful because the architecture responds to the sunny, dry climate with flat roofs and thick earthy walls that encase heat and coolth.

Finally, culture creates beauty. Gothic cathedrals and Louis Sullivan’s early skyscrapers both soar into the air based on cultural cues: spiritual exuberance in the former; high real estate values in the latter.

There are certain buildings and places that are commonly held as examples of beauty. The Taj Mahal, Piazza San Marco and the Parthenon each have their own attributes and widely appreciated iconography. The universal lauding is partially because of what we know — that beautiful buildings have perfect proportion, balance, symmetrical or asymmetrical relationships of the composition, elegance, simplicity, harmony, materiality and relationships to the public realm and site.

But lasting beauty comes from a much more complex equation than is implied by these rules of design.

The Science of Architecture, followed out to its fullest extent, is one of the noblest of those which have reference only to the creations of human minds. It is not merely a science of the rule and compass, it does not consist only in the observation of just rule, or of fair proportion: it is, or ought to be, a science of feeling more than of rule, a ministry to the mind, more than to the eye. If we consider how much less the beauty and majesty of a building depend upon its pleasing certain prejudices of the eye, than upon its rousing certain trains of meditation in the mind, it will show in a moment how many intricate questions of feelings are involved in the raising of an edifice; it will convince us of the truth of a proposition, which might at first have appeared startling, that no man can be called an architect, who is not a metaphysician.
—John Ruskin, Poetry of Architecture

We offer that beauty is composed of three primary tenets, each of which connects us to a sense of grandeur:

Sensory Experience:
All of our senses work in harmony to observe the essence of a space.

It is our belief that true beauty in architecture involves all of the senses and must be experienced to be truly appreciated. Beautiful buildings provide rich visual, aural, olfactory and tactile experiences. Our memories of beauty are built around how the building and spaces between feel as we walk across the floor or glide a hand across a handrail.

The contrast between silence and echo of Lincoln Memorial is a memory for all visitors. The same is true of the aroma of the wooden structure of Fay Jones Thorncrown Temple, which intertwines every visitor with a rich understanding of this soaring structure that is perfectly integrated into its natural setting.

Mental Interest:
The relationship between our culture and us stimulates mental interest. The built environment accomplishes this by contrasting complexity and simplicity — the expected and the surprising.

Great buildings appeal to our inner intellectual needs. It is the relationships between the people that occupy a space and the buildings that frame a space that convey meaning. A carefully considered urban plaza is subject to the whim of its users. The character of a place is the result of the collective consciousness that gives deep meaning and layered experience. Careful consideration of the potential of a space to engender interaction and to challenge inhabitants with nuance, surprise and comfort forms the foundation of what, through the patina of use, emerges as a beauty.

Another component of beauty ties to the rigor required to craft functional buildings that perform exceptionally well. Spaces that elevate the workings of those who occupy the interior spaces — such as classrooms that inspire improved learning or offices that improve productivity — are signs of inner beauty. Integrated building elements that perform to reduce energy demands, harvest renewable energy, harvest sunlight, reclaim water and other elements that make the building itself perform better are all forms of beauty — if expressed in ways that are delightful and contribute to the overall composition of the architecture.

Connection to the Environment:
A consistent connection to the natural world and environmental systems adds the required vitality. Our connection to natural beauty is innate. Nature is the greatest source of beauty and is often considered the measure to which all other beauty is compared. Regardless of our backgrounds, human beings respond to nature in similar ways and share emotional and intellectual beauty of natural systems.

Our Work ?
We believe that this moment in time presents designers of all types with an unprecedented opportunity to reshape the built environment while harmoniously regenerating the natural world. We are a diverse world community that is both a melting pot and a collection of distinct cultures. These social and cultural conditions present unique and interesting challenges for designers at a time when climate and regionalism increasingly shape our work. At BNIM, we believe that design dialogue is powerful and universal. We strive for beauty and delight that is deeply rooted and transcends place, culture and time. Through integrated design our collaborative approach results in buildings and environments that are beautiful and sustainable. This approach produces more with less.

A Choice
Architects have a choice that is important and will touch future generations.

At BNIM, we believe the only choice is designing places that are healthy, economically responsible and are regenerative stewards of all natural systems. The firm’s work consciously does not fall into any particular stylistic formula. Every design is unique in terms of its site, context, functional requirements, technological potential and role in its community and culture. We strive to construct a design process that is collaborative, integrated and participatory, where all voices can be heard, from specialist engineers, designers and constructors to clients and users.

The result is a collection of buildings and environments that are distinctive in their conceptual clarity and visual and spatial intensity.? In our practice, we design private and public realms that work in concert to contribute positively to community and nature, no matter the scale. A building has a role and responsibility to improve and give life to its surrounding public realm. We believe that each work of architecture, regardless of scale, should embrace its cultural, community, urban and natural contexts so that the final outcome defines an idea of the public realm. ?

We define design excellence by the triple-bottom-line — people, planet and prosperity. As a result, we are committed to producing work that maximizes human potential, productivity and health. Every project is committed to minimizing the consumption of resources, reducing waste and pollution and restoring natural systems. Our work and design process promotes responsible stewardship of economic resources through design and operation.
When we try to pick out any one thing in nature, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.
—John Muir
As architects, we sometimes too easily forget that what we really do is serve the needs of people while striving to make the world better one building at a time. We seek to provide gratification and satisfaction for the immeasurable inner needs of human beings—by providing pleasure and delight in every design. ?

A great building must begin with the immeasurable, must go through measurable means when it is being designed, and in the end must be immeasurable.
—Louis Kahn

STEVE MCDOWELL, FAIA, is BNIM’s Director of Design. He is an innovator, and his workplace is a laboratory for exploring ideas related to site, environment and technical investigation.

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