ECONIC design: The Visual Communication of Sustainability


Where are all the green buildings people talk about? Yes, I mean green- Green, as in the color. Well, I say this in jest, but one and a half years ago my firm designed a green roof for MINI Cooper and our idea was to make the whole event space aesthetically green in addition to its green/sustainable materials. The only problem was that the representative for the client hated the color, so it had to become more conservative and differentiated – which was ok for the project – but it lost a bit of its symbolic edge. The case highlighted one thing we tend to miss in architecture: the visual communication of sustainability that most “green” buildings lack.

The Hearst Tower in New York, arguably one of most interesting new buildings constructed in New York over the last decade and one of the most sustainable, does not communicate its ecological DNA to the public. In order to get that information, you need to read about it in a magazine. This is why we in our office started to develop something we call ECONIC design: Ecology + Icon.

ECONIC buildings are ecological signifiers that communicate a new, more ecological lifestyle through their physical presence within the urban context. Of course, these buildings also need to be ecological through their buildings systems, use of materiality, and urban position – but using the exterior as an added opportunity is something we are after.

When Al Gore organized the Live Earth concept, it turned out not being ecological itself (it produced 200,000 tons of carbon) but it made the ecological message popular and through its social impact, it lightened up the balance sheet in the long run. In architecture this is especially important since our architectural infrastructure is consuming 40% of all energy globally! Perhaps we should start painting every sustainable building green to show off – but more importantly make people aware that 98% of all buildings in America are lacking ecological consciousness. This is something that urgently needs to change!

About The Author

Matthias Hollwich is principal of HOLLWICHKUSHNER, LLC, a New York City based architecture and concept design firm. He is also co-founder of ARCHITIZER, a social networking platform connecting architects via their designs. Matthias is driven by the aim to upgrade man-made environments on a human and engaging scale with an ECONIC twist and can be best reached at (

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