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Greening Modernism by Carl Stein (Book Review)

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

Title: Greening Modernism by Carl Stein (affiliate link)

URL: Greening Modernism by Carl Stein (affiliate link)

Purpose: Greening Modernism’s author, Carl Stein, makes a case for a more unified and holistic architecture that reaches a sustainable synergy through building reuse, with particular attention to the balance between the qualitative aspects of science and the more effect-driven aspects of utility and human experience.

Merging the Finite with the Wisdom of Occupant Experience

This beautiful book, Greening Modernism (affiliate link), encourages readers to take on the finite nature of natural resources, as they may serve as impetus to design buildings which offer occupants more meaningful human experiences. In his discussion, the author Carl Stein, highlights the relationship between occupant and building — where “limitation” can be used to re-frame design problems, and thus, lead to more holistic and cooperative design solutions that invite occupants to connect with their environment in ways that meet today’s environmental challenges while still offering, what Stein calls, the “authentic human experience”.

Often emphasized in this book is the notion of how the authenticity of experience is frequently missed due to our lack of awareness regarding the finite nature of that which surrounds us: the environment, its resources, and the energies which buildings utilize (for their demolition, construction and operation). I agree with Stein as he eludes to the notion that authentic experiences are hard to come by these days, as there is an epidemic of “devalued experience”, which may be a by-product of the lack of awareness that our resources are, in fact, limited.

As you may surmise, Greening Modernism offers a narrative that will lead you through the strategies, relationships and consequences of how to “build” sustainably for our time, complete with color images that often serve to reinforce the links between what we need to do, and what has been done.

Energy, Restraint and Smart Reuse: Beyond ‘Buildings as Objects’

As one delves deeper within Greening Modernism (affiliate link), Carl Stein invites his reader to look beyond ‘given’ systems of analysis — to question what already exists, to decipher what will be required to meet human need, and to weigh architectural design strategies to find new and smarter ways to both preserve and reuse resources.

Astutely, Carl Stein investigates the interrelationships between ‘quantified analysis’ and ‘subjective effects’ with such questions that weigh the thought process of decision-making between specifics like the importance between a “5% increasing cooling load [versus] a visual connection to the outside world”. (Stein, 192) Thus, through both its big-picture and detail-oriented lens, Greening Modernism is an insightful read in that it juxtaposes architectural design’s larger challenges with specific scenario-based solutions and applications, so you can see how truly sustainable and holistic architectural design thinking might play out.

Building Systems and Controls That Interconnect Rather Than Divide

As an architect, reading Greening Modernism (affiliate link) will be time well spent. It offers strategies to tackle both the simple and complex with the intent of keeping building occupants in touch with what is most important — achieving a more sustainable architecture and way of living where, through occupant behavior, they never lose ‘touch’ with that which surrounds them.

For instance, Carl Stein explains how automated and manual building control systems may serve different purposes when each is taken to its extreme. And as such, each scenario has caveats as well. The fully automated building system that self adjusts and self corrects may be more efficient in real time, but as Carl Stein explains, it may further disconnect building occupants from their environment, in turn, making them lose touch with the cause-and-effect relationships between their building, its operations, other occupants and the larger surrounding environmental context. (Stein, p. 215)

In the end, Greening Modernism (affiliate link) presents a way forward where sustainable design becomes more than just about efficiency and quantitative analysis — Carl Stein, instead, suggests how meaning can be further developed within architecture, particularly when that architecture has been designed in true synergy with the environment, not for the sole purpose of saving limited resources, but to also design buildings that are truly worth experiencing.

To learn more or to buy Greening Modernism, please click here. (affiliate link)

Review by Maria Lorena Lehman, Founder of Sensing Architecture


1) Stein, Carl. Greening Modernism: Preservation, Sustainability, and the Modern Movement. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.

Disclosure: Please note that the book entitled Greening Modernism was provided to me for free by the publisher for the purposes of this book review publication. 


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Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is an award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

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