Elegance in architecture can be difficult to dissociate from what has become known to the layperson as curb appeal.
One of the most eye-opening – and frustrating moments in my career as an architect occurred during a meeting for a suburban development in New Jersey. My team and I had worked for three weeks on design concept that was infused with ecological ideas, great apartment layouts, and an aesthetic that reflected the intention in a slightly unconventional fashion – and yet the only question we got was, ‘And where is the curb appeal?’
It struck me that even with my 15 years of experience as an architect (mainly on European projects) I had no answer to that question. From my perspective the form and aesthetic of a building comes ultimately from within the concept, spatial configuration, and design intention – and not from an image that is just there to please the drive-by customer.
Learning from that experience, my office, HWKN, began exploring the possibility of using the exterior of a project for our architectural intention. Not that we gave into the banality of a sales pitch – but rather we wanted to use the aesthetic and formal potential for our ethical and architectural motivation: ECONIC Design, the idea of turning the form and aesthetic of a building into a signifier of a new, more sustainable lifestyle. The building itself becomes an advertisement for an ecological mindset. This might not create a elegant building, but a building with a purpose – with or without curb appeal.