Book Review: Integrated Design in Contemporary Architecture

Integrated Design in Contemporary Architecture by Kiel Moe, published by Princeton Architectural Press, 2008. Hardcover, 208 pages. (Amazon)

Integrated design is one of those terms, like sustainable design, that is susceptible to misuse and becoming vague buzz words that distance core ideas from the term's use. The former term is typically used in service of the latter one, but how that occurs is unknown by many, as it is a relatively new concern in the various professions that contribute to building design. Northeastern University's Kiel Moe helps define exactly what integrated design is, while providing abundant illustrations of projects that exhibit the process. Taking words from the dust jacket, it "provides the strategies to achieve high performance, low energy consumption, and cost-effectiveness through careful ground-up consideration of how the program, siting, design, materials, systems, and products of a building connect, interact, and affect one another." Furthermore, "this approach eschews specialists working in isolation in favor of solutions that are greater than the sum of their parts." Admirable, to be sure, but what exactly does this mean for architecture and the people that occupy buildings?
Moe tackles the subject by focusing on North America, gathering 28 projects (most built) that include single-family houses, offices and institutional buildings. A number of well-known projects are featured, such as Morphosis's Federal Building in San Francisco, SANAA's Glass Pavilion in Toledo, Ohio, and Cook + Fox's Bank of America Tower in Manhattan. But if one takes these to be the norm examples of integrated design, then expense is no matter. Of course for most clients it is, and thankfully a number of projects show how low budgets can still accommodate the goals of integrated design. Moe's brief, but thorough, introduction expands on these goals mentioned above, clearly showing how the complexity of building systems and the need for energy efficiency/production and passive heating/cooling fit neatly in integrated design. But the "social construction of architecture" is aimed at the relationships of architects to engineers, for example, rather than the designers to the users. Here the social is the network of various professions in the design process, removing the user from the equation, something a truly integrated design would foster.
Project highlights include Opsis Architecture's Lovejoy Building in Portland (a sensitive renovation/extension), UVA's ecoMOD house (a good illustration of how integrated design can infiltrate the classroom), and Mahlum's Seminar II Building at Evergreen State College (this week's dose and a great example of how the client's enlightened sustainability initiatives influence the choice of integrated design). Taken as a whole the various buildings indicate positive outcomes when integrated design is consciously adopted. Like sustainable design, the term integrated design will most likely fade away, absorbed into the normal everyday workings of architects, engineers and other professionals working towards buildings with lighter ecological footprints, and hopefully more positive environments for everybody.


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