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Conceptual Designs




Dr. Jong-Jin Kim: Excerpts

The following selections are excerpted, with permission, from the work of Dr. Jong-Jin Kim of the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan.


We live in a dynamic and constantly changing world - a living organism much like our own bodies. Architecture is a filter between our senses and the world in which we live. This filter moderates and defines our sense of comfort, pleasure, and well-being. Architects require a fundamental knowledge of thermal, lighting, and acoustic design to enhance our awareness of the relationship between architecture, the senses, and the environment. To challenge our perceptions and enrich our comprehension of the built and natural environments, we need architectural experiences which enrich our opportunities to use our senses. In sensuous designs there is an inherent responsiveness to the environment; inviting interactions between the users, climate, and site. Sensuous designs nurture an awareness of the world and create a greater understanding of our kinship with all of life. Architecture of the senses captures the dynamic qualities of light; defining the mood of the day, the changing of the environment (with our eyes and with our bodies) and provides variety and contrast - through different textures, colors, and temperatures. It allows the wind to carry scents and to comfort our bodies. It lets us know that we're alive. Architecture of the senses allows us to see the world, to touch the seasons, and to welcome in the sounds and resonance of life.


Architecture is the site of human social, cultural and economic activities. As the economy of both industrialized and developing countries grows, the consumption of natural resources will increase and the environmental conditions will further deteriorate. Unless the current production-consumption based economic paradigm is shifted to conservation based alternatives, the threats to the quality of life on Planet Earth will become increasingly real.

A building is part of the global ecosystem, where a continuous and cyclical flow of resources occurs. The input and output elements for the building ecosystem include building materials, energy, water, consumer goods and on-site natural resources. These input and output elements of the building ecosystem have diverse environmental implications during the process of their transmigration.

The principles of economy of resources, life cycle design, and humane design provide a conceptual framework for green architecture. A series of design strategies for greening architecture can be emanated when these principles are holistically incorporated in design.

Concern about the environment is not a recent issue. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, many prophets foresaw the problems that would arise from the consumption of natural resources by industrialized countries and the resulting deteriorating conditions of human habitation on Planet Earth. While the social and economic structures of industrialized countries rely heavily on the exploitation of world resources, E.F. Schumaker introduced a new economic ethic: world resources should be regarded as capital to be conserved rather than income to be spent. Schumaker questioned the basic assumption of the prevailing economic models based on resources exploitation, and advocated a shift to an economic paradigm that promoted resource conservation.

Even after the two energy crises of the 1970a, many consumers, economists and policy makers regarded the events as energy distribution crises rather than as symptomatic. They failed to recognize the problems as arising from the depletion of world resources and the structural resource-dependency of industrialized societies. The ideal of economic development is still ever-higher production, higher consumption and greater resource exploitation. The success of economic development is traditionally measured by an increase of the Gross National Product (GNP), which favors any economic activities and production regardless of their true benefits and effect on long-term societal well-being. Even consumption, demolition and waste that require further production are credited to a higher GNP. Consumption is regarded as a virtue in capitalistic societies.

In industrialized countries, this production-consumption based economic structure is still dominant. However, realizing the environmental threats, real or potential, to the quality of life, the arguments against consumption and waste are increasing. Environmental consciousness is growing within the general public's awareness. Environmental movements have begun in virtually all sectors of industrialized countries, including: business; manufacturing; transportation; agriculture; and, architecture. Efforts have been undertaken to shift the consumption-based economic paradigm to one based on conservation. Methods of analyzing the true cost of an economic activity, such as life cycle analysis assessment are being studied.

Developing countries have been, by and large, modeling their economic infra-structure after those of industrialized counterparts. Today, economic activities in developing countries around the world, Pacific Rim countries in particular, are far more noticeable than two or three decades ago, and their share of the world economy is increasing. All quantitative economic indices such as per capita income, GNP, amount of foreign trade, and the amount of building construction indicate that their economies are strong and growing rapidly.

However, in the name of economic development, abuse of the natural environment is occurring without acknowledging that the undisturbed natural environment is also valuable. The loss of environmental quality and quality of life attributed to industrialization are not justifiably taken into account by a measure of a country's GNP. In the U.S. alone, billions of dollars have been spent cleaning up an environment subjected to uncontrolled development. The ecological havoc created by the former Soviet Union is only now beginning to be fully understood. Developing countries would do well to learn from these situations, not emulate them.

Green Principles

The global ecosystem consists of three key constituents: inorganic elements, living organisms, and humans. A group of inorganic elements provides an environment for living organisms and humans, such as the atmospheric environment (a group of air), land environment (a group of soil), and hydrospheric environment (a group of water).

The goal of sustainable design in architecture is to find architectural solutions that guarantee well-being and coexistence of these three constituents. Three principles of sustainability in architecture are proposed: Economy of Resources, Life Cycle Design and Humane Design.

Economy Of Resources

The principle of Economy of Resources refers to the reduction and efficient utilization of non-renewable resources input to buildings. Since the 1970s, the concerns about non-renewable energy consumption in buildings have been well-recognized. A variety of research has been conducted, and a large body of knowledge has been established in the areas of building energy conservation, alternative energy sources, and climate-responsive design. The environmental implications of a building's consumption of other resources remain ill-understood among architectural professionals.

Strategies for reducing the impact of architecture on the local and global environments can be grouped in two types.

1) Input Reduction Strategies require a low-level flow of non-renewable resources input to buildings. A building's resource demands are directly related to its efficiency in utilizing resources.

2) Output Management Strategies reduce environmental pollution by requiring a low level of waste and proper waste management.

Architecture is the site of humans' resource consumption. As was indicated earlier, during the life cycle, buildings consume a range of resources including building materials, water, consumer goods and foods to name a few.

Life Cycle Design

During its life-cycle, ranging from initial construction throughout its useful life, a building affects both the local and the global environments via a series of interconnected human activities and natural processes. At the early stage, site development and construction intervene with the local environment, influencing its indigenous ecological characteristics. Though temporary, the influx of construction equipment and personnel to a building site and the process of construction itself disrupt the local environment, while the procurement and manufacturing of materials necessary for buildings impact the global environment. Once built, a building inflicts long-lasting impact on the environment during its operation. Energy and water consumed in a building pollute the local environment through production of toxic gases and sewage. The process of extracting, refining, and transporting energy and resources required for building maintenance and operation greatly affect the environment, although indirectly.

Humane Design

In modern society, people are increasingly spending more time in built environments. On average, over 70% of a person's life span is spent in indoor environments. It is an essential role of architecture to provide built environments in which occupants' safety, health, physiological comfort, psychological well-being, and productivity can be sustained.

In the past, energy conservation meant to many people "shivering cold in the dark." Because environmental quality is intangible, its importance was often overlooked in energy and environmental conservation. At the same time, building designers have been preoccupied with style and form-making, and the environmental quality in and around built environments was not seriously considered in design.

The ultimate goal and challenge of sustainable design is finding win-win solutions that provide quantitative and qualitative, tangible and intangible, physical and psychological benefits to building users.

Humane design is also concerned with the livability of other constituents of the global ecosystem including plants and wildlife. This principle arises from the humanitarian and altruistic goal of respecting the life and dignity of fellow living organisms. Further examination reveals that this principle is deeply rooted in the egocentric need to preserve the chain elements of the ecosystem that allow human survival.

Many strategies for promoting viability of plants and wildlife can be implemented in building design, site planning and urban planning:

  • Avoiding of disturbance of sensitive flora and fauna in site selection and building construction.
  • Minimizing human intervention on site and topography.
  • Provision of wildlife sanctuaries within building sites.
  • Returning organic outputs back to building sites.

The current status of sustainable design in architecture is ethic rather than science. While a change of lifestyles and attitudes toward the local and global environments is important, the development of scientific knowledge-bases that provide skills, techniques and methods of implementing specific environmental goals in building design is urgent.

In order to enhance environmental sustainability, a building must balance and integrate all three principles in a holistic manner in design, construction, operation and maintenance, and recycling and re-use of architectural resources. Economy of resources, life cycle design and humane design are components of a framework for sustainable architectural design. This conceptual framework is intended to make designers seek solutions rather than giving them a set of solutions. Specific design solutions compatible with a given design problem will emanate from these principles.