into the pensieve

I hope everybody got that Harry Potter reference. If you didn’t, a pensieve is a shallow, stone basin that holds particular memories that the witch or wizard has removed from their mind, so that they can revisit later on. It acts as a storage and it allows them to submerge into the memories completely so that they can reflect or gain clarity. Others can also visit the pensieve if they wish so that they can understand the memories better as well. 

It’s hard to believe that this semester is closing and that this is my final blog! As I recall at the beginning of this course, I really couldn’t articulate exactly what I thought about sustainability, what sustainable design is and especially not what I expected to learn from this course. However, after a whirlwind semester of readings, quizzes, design slams, L.O.L.A. Shows, epiphany blogs, and some great classroom discussions, I can finally define those concepts in my own words (without googling it 🙂 ).

 I’ve learned throughout this semester that sustainability is the ability of a product, process, building, design, etc. to function with little to no impact on the environment. To put it very simply, it has the ability to sustain itself. Sounds simple enough, right? Yes and no. While I already know that nothing is black and white, I quickly learned that sustainability is not so cut and dry either. It is a messy, gray concept that is actually quite overwhelming when all gazillion (political, social, financial) factors are considered in a situation. I learned that very few things are completely, 100% sustainable, and that those things vary in degrees of… sustainability. Vagueness aside, it is the ability of a product to attain, maintain and sustain its own functions while not harming the environment. Sustainability also includes how well (or how much) it can attain, maintain and sustain its own functions. This defines its level of sustainability.

 So, if I’m taking this concept of sustainability and applying it to design, then I get sustainable design, which is what this entire journey (course) has been about. In applying my previously stated definition of sustainability, it should mean that the design has the ability to sustain its functions with little to no impact on the environment. That all sounds a bit wordy and theoretical to me so here are some questions that a designer might ask in regards to sustainability/sustainable design: does this process do more harm than good? Does it contribute to the destruction of natural resources? Does it cost a ridiculous amount of money to produce and ship? Is the building going to need an unnecessary amount of air conditioning in the summer? Essentially, do the ends justify the means? To add on to my definition of sustainability, I think that sustainable design is an approach to design that not only regards the health, safety and welfare of people highest, but also the environment. Designers that embrace sustainability are seeking alternative ways to solve their problem that have the least amount of impact on the environment.

“Buy more, Pay less.” I’m sure everyone recognizes that catchy and sadly, truthful slogan that Wal-Mart parades. Buy more. That immediately takes me back to one of the most pronounced epiphanies that I had this semester. As I read through that particular blog post, I said, “while I did not have a learning epiphany, there was a golden nugget of information that has particularly resonated with me.” I suppose I should’ve just called it an epiphany. So here is that nugget of information again: I was unaware just how much of a consumerist culture we live in. Materialism is quite possibly at its annual peak with Christmas approaching and my awareness of it is intensifying with every stupid commercial that is played. I don’t to rewrite that entire blog post, but this was the quote that still resonates with me today. It’s from Fletcher’s Needs and it says: “You never know what is enough, unless you know what is more than enough.” It’s just as true today as it was when I read it, if not even more so now.

Over Thanksgiving, I cringed at the Black Friday news reports, seeing the insanity of people rushing out to buy stuff to that isn’t really going to make them happy. And I know that’s just one example of our consumerism. My brother is being deployed to Afghanistan in February but he’s already gone for training so he won’t be home for Christmas. Thankfully, we have the opportunity to visit him in New York City for Christmas, since he’s allowed to travel up to 150 miles from where he’s currently stationed (New Jersey.) Since we are essentially taking a short vacation to visit him, my mom told me we wouldn’t be having many gifts this year. You know what truth came to mind? “You never know what is enough, unless you know what is more than enough.” It is more than enough to spend Christmas with my family altogether in NYC. It doesn’t matter if I don’t get the Patagonia Re-Tool pullover sweatshirt that I have on my list. I know that spending time with all of us together is way more important than a sweatshirt, a watch or a new phone. It is more than enough for me and so I really can’t want anything else. Less is more and whatever it will be, it will be enough – that is what I am taking away from this course. To summarize that, materialism = a vacuum. It perpetually sucks and it’s never filled up. This transcends into interior design very obviously, just drive through Nichols Hills in OKC. Nobody needs 8,000 sq. feet for a family of 4. You’ll see huge, beautiful homes decorated lavishly but is the family inside the house happy? There’s a good chance they might not be (I’m sure that there are many exceptions though). I think this theme of ‘less is more’ can be found in sustainable design, if it’s not the very root of it. That is something that I took note of throughout the semester, that every approach to sustainable design had some form of cutting down usage, decreasing purchases, using less, etc. The focus is on optimization and not maximization.

Another epiphany that is very pronounced in my mind is from my L.O.L.A. show article about emotional intelligence. That is something that just like the materialism epiphany (nugget) continues to truly resonate with me. Basically, some time after writing about this epiphany, I have come across a potential job opportunity that will allow me to do exactly what I blogged about, which is “communicating with people, understanding where they’re coming from, gauging their emotions, figuring out why they do the things they do, etc.” That has truly inspired me to explore job options outside of design! That epiphany has been one of the biggest ‘takeaways’ for me this semester. I have a desire to write (in the form of blogging, specifically), communicate with people, resolve conflict and understand people. Through blogging and researching emotional intelligence for this course, I have been able to unearth these desires and explore opportunities that may be exactly what I didn’t know I was looking for.

Knowing what I know now, I’d love to know how I can combine all of these passions that I have and find out what that looks like in the professional world. What kind of job should I pursue? What type of design firm? What city, in which state? These may be bigger questions that don’t seem to have much regard to sustainability or sustainable design but I think that it definitely can. And maybe I’m experiencing a bit of a quarter-life crisis so I’m questioning everything in my life right now but these are some legitimate questions that I have. If I answer this question specifically, what do I want to know more about in the future in regards to sustainability and sustainable design, then I’d like to know the process to becoming LEED certified and what requirements have to be met for design firms to be LEED certified/claim that they practice sustainable design/take green initiatives. I think the best place to start when job searching is looking at the sustainability credentials of the potential employer.

As I evaluate the relevancy of this week’s learning from the Sustainability Gap by Stieg, I think that this article is absolutely useful to me. All semester I’ve been asking myself, what will this (sustainable design) look like in my field of study? How will it be applied? How the heck will it even make a difference? IS THE WORLD ENDING? Just kidding about the last question. But really, this article addresses the gap between our base knowledge of sustainability and then actually making it happen in the professional world of ID. She brought up some excellent subjects that which interior designers should be well educated upon entering the work force… I am not. But that is because sustainability is not truly taught by all of the faculty in our college. This article really challenges the readers to learn beyond the typical concept of sustainability and to not stop learning about sustainability. It’s so relevant because it tells you what you need to know if you’re striving to practice sustainable design and then tells you how important it is to have a heart for it, or as she says, a thirst for the knowledge.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this incredibly long post, I really didn’t know what to expect to learn from this course. Since I didn’t know what to expect to learn, I really didn’t have a set of standards by which to compare our curriculum. With that being said, there really isn’t anything that I can say I was hoping to learn and did not learn. There are some things that I wish I had learned (see paragraph about LEED certification) but they should have been taught in the interior design studios. Overall I am not disappointed in what I learned throughout this semester at all. Actually, I have learned so much more than I could have anticipated. I really enjoyed writing these blogs because they facilitate not only reflection about what I have learned but really make me “own” my thoughts, reflections, learning and questions. 

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