POSTED ON MARCH 14, 2012:
Small is the New Big
Sustainability and function are key design elements in a well-rounded space
Scott Pohlenz has found his home in Tulsa. Not only in Tulsa but at Center1 specifically where on an inconspicuous corner, you can find an expanse of glass and white concrete. If Mies Van der Rohe, an iconic modernist architect known for his "skin and bones" aesthetic, were to go looking for a showroom location, it is surely where he would want to set up shop. It is a fitting location for Pohlenz Cucine Moderne. In fact, should you happen to be strolling down Brookside, you might just mistake the showroom for an art gallery. That is fitting too.
In fact, about 12 years ago while Pohlenz and his wife were strolling down the Boulevard Saint Germain in Paris, they stumbled upon what they thought to be an art gallery. They quickly discovered that it was in fact a Valcucine showroom.
As an architect, Pohlenz was immediately drawn to the engineering first and the aesthetics of the product second. He found the aesthetics to be highly functional, conscientious, sleek, minimalistic, unassumingly elegant and progressive.
If attraction begins on the first date, infatuation perhaps begins on the second. It was after learning a bit about the cabinetry products, aesthetics aside, Pohlenz fell in love with the company's underlying ethos. "I discovered that they're not just a cabinet manufacturer but a company with a hyper-focus on sustainability."
And what exactly is sustainability anyway? In the simplest and broadest terms, it is the responsible management of resource use. Not an entirely new concept but still not a concept that has become mainstream. Not in a city where more is more, anyway.
"As Tulsans, we tend to think more in terms of square footage. We want the space," said Pohlenz. "It's a different value system than cities that are more dense and where space is limited. But the economic climate is creating a change of mindset. Right now, the American mentality is to shift from SUVs to smaller, more fuel efficient cars. This prioritization of efficiency is translating to homes as well. The trend is for smaller square footage of homes of higher quality and creating a smaller foot print. People are realizing that bigger is not better."
As a company, Valcucine operates from a philosophy of four basic components of sustainable design. 1. Dematerialization, the practice of using the minimal amount of materials required to achieve the purpose. 2. Recyclability, achieved by designing the products in such a way that decreases (if not all together eliminates) the likelihood of discarded products ending up in a landfill. 3. Reduction of toxic emissions, such as formaldehyde, carbon dioxide and other VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that are harmful to humans over time and 4. Long product life, so that there is an offset in lifecycle cost and a reduction of waste.
And so this raises some questions, when considering sustainable design, "How much space do we actually need?" or as a Manhattanite might ask, "What do you do with all that space?" And are we making compromises that are potentially harming us? And can that harm be mitigated through the selective use of technology?
We see it in our automobiles, our home electronics, and our cell phones even. Our automobiles are becoming more compact (as can be observed in the surge of popularity of cars such as the SMART car, Mini Cooper and resurrection of the Fiat), our televisions have become flat with the ability to be suspended on the wall (potentially eliminating the need for a console), our album and library collections that once took up entire shelves can now be carried in single devices contained within a back pocket.
It is a natural occurrence that sustainability achieved through technology should start showing up in the systems in our homes, such as in our kitchens and bathrooms where function is of particular importance.
So how does this marriage of technological sustainability fit within our existing homes? By coexistence, proposes Pohlenz."It's possible to integrate contemporary design elements with more traditional or historic interiors. Overall, European culture is much more accepting of the meshing of the two seemingly contrasting architectural styles. There is authenticity in combining ancient and modern architecture. The architecture isn't trying to be something that it's not. Our approach to design is that you can create a beautiful new object that allows the original objects to coexist and still maintain their integrity."
And when incorporating sustainable technology into your existing home, any modernist will remind you that "form follows function" but as Pohlenz points out, "We don't have to take the elegance out of sustainability."
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