Architecture with a social conscience

By Reed Kelley, Student Writer
School of Architecture and Allied Arts

Cover of Kingston Heath's new bookEUGENE, Ore. -- (April 13, 2009) - A newly published book by Kingston Heath, professor and director of the historic preservation program at the University of Oregon, is landing on library and bookstore shelves with its focus on socially responsible and environmentally responsive design.

"Vernacular Architecture and Regional Design: Cultural Process and Environmental Response," uses eight case studies to make his case. The 216-page soft-bound book is published by the Architectural Press through Elsevier Science and Technology Books.

Kingston Heath, professor of historic preservationSustainable design requires that practitioners respond to a particular set of social, cultural and environmental conditions. "Vernacular Architecture and Regional Design" defines a set of strategies for understanding the complexities of a regional setting.

Many of the architects and urban designers profiled in the book, including UO architecture professor Howard Davis, Nihal Perera, Jo Noero (former UO professor, now an architect in South Africa), Teddy Cruz and Darren Petrucci, have ventured into human settings that have either been economically and ethnically marginalized, dramatically altered by political or natural phenomena, or insensitively developed; yet, Heath notes, they overcome these obstacles in socially responsible ways that enrich the environments for which they were called upon to address.

Others like Nina Maritz, Carol Wilson and Glenn Murcutt call upon the profession to establish different criteria for building performance that does more with less, touches the earth lightly and resonates with the cultural and environmental dynamics of place. Their work, Heath writes, seeks to improve the human circumstances and fragile environments in which they work through sustainable practices.

"This is a book aimed at the next generation of design professionals," Heath said. "It calls for architectural and urban design practices that are focused on improving the human condition through design. It is eco-centric, not ego-centric. It is architecture with a social conscience in the way it directs its attention to forgotten realms of human context."

Heath's numerous articles in scholarly journals and his work at field schools in Italy and Croatia have garnered Heath an international reputation in the field of vernacular architecture. His 2002 book "Patina of Place" won the Abbott Lowell Cummings Award from the Virginia-based Vernacular Architecture Forum for excellence in a scholarly work. Heath was previously on the architecture faculties at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and holds graduate degrees from both the University of Chicago and Brown University.

In December, Heath discussed his approaches to regionally based architecture in a talk at the 2008 annual meeting of the International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments in Oxford, UK. (Read story)