Aesthetics has been misplaced, almost as superficial in discourses on sustainability because of the imperative focus on ecology. In the hopes of re-asserting its crucial role, Elizabeth Meyer deemed it to be about “perception” rather than mere “visual appearance”, during her lecture for the University of Toronto’s Daniels School of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. She emphasized that:

Aesthetics is not the moment, but the relationship of knowledge and prior experience.

This dismisses its mere association to just stylistic issues or concern for form. Aesthetics influences an immersive experience, which results in an environmental ethic– a sustained public support, which cultivates  the proper attitudes, feelings, images and narratives.

Hence, “Sustaining Beauty” was taken as the fifth approach from these 4 elucidated responses from the North American practice of Landscape Architecture:

  1. YAWN: acknowledge + continue on | Sustainability is what we’ve been doing
  2. EMBRACE: adapt + proselytize | Sustainability is a technical challenge
  3. DISMISS: avoid + denigrate | Sustainability is concerned about ecology, and has no room in design and expression
  4. DISTAIN: adopt in private + distance in public | Employ sustainable technology in practice, but veer away from environmental advocates
The Crissy Field in San Francisco exemplifies the fifth approach thru the juxtaposition of two landscape types – a marsh habitat and a recreation promenade – which made users aware of their co-existence with nature. In her words, “sustaining beauty utilizes the aesthetic experience of landscape as a tool in the sustainable design toolbox.”
11 manifestos were then presented for the performance of appearance. After which, it was encouraged to seek multiple forms and forums for its implementation to veer away from the cynicism produced by saturated “eco” content of mass media.

One of the professors from the audience was remarkable to comment that although resilience is considered as a tenet of sustainable aesthetics for landscape design, resilience can be an alternative to sustainability – which made me wonder, can design help its context recover to its original state, rather than maintain it at a certain rate or level, after a disturbance or deformation?

Meyer’s refocusing of the sustainable paradigm towards beauty, redefines beauty, itself, as a constructive experience that triggers not only our physical senses, but also our intellect and morale. The approach effectively revisits the architectural practice to ask, to learn, to reinvent, and to serve with the important premise that, design matters, beauty matters.

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