THE SUSTAINABLE IMAGE: CONTEXT AND COMMONALTIES
INTRODUCTION: WHY SUSTAINABLE DESIGN?
“Sustainability is not a new building style.
Instead it represents a revolution in how we
think about, design, construct, and operate
—A Primer on Sustainable Building
published by Rocky Mountain Institute
Green Development Services
The image of our built environment is strongly
related to sustainability. Sustainability grows
from principles of conservation and stewardship
that are integral to the identity and mission of
the Forest Service. A sustainable built
environment meets the following goals:
• Minimize the use of resources.
• Conserve ecosystems, the source of all
• Create healthy built environments and
landscapes for present and future generations.
Our forests are the ultimate renewable
resource—one that, if managed with care, will
meet the needs of people and ecosystems
indefinitely. It is our mission to demonstrate to
all Americans how to conserve these resources.
As the construction, maintenance, heating, and
cooling of structures consume an ever-increasing
portion of our country’s natural resources,
sustainable design becomes more important.
We can launch our drive toward sustainability by
examining the Forest Service structures built during
the era of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
The rustic design of these 1930’s structures
harmonized superbly with their natural settings.
The designers accomplished this by including
natural materials such as stone and logs.
Moreover, the craftsmanship and proportions
of CCC structures were often exquisite.
But that is only a start. The rustic style of
design was just that: a look. A rustic structure is
not inherently any more ecological or sustainable
than any other building dressed in the clothing
of the forest.
Figure 1: Roof Pitch Varies With Climate and Verticality of Topography and Vegetation
Flat or Gentle Roof Pitch
• Mild winter
• Flat topography
• Short or sparse vegetation
Medium Roof Pitch
Steep Roof Pitch:
• High Mountains
• Heavy snow
• Steep topography
• Tall trees
The future of the Forest Service’s built environment
image lies in drawing from aspects of our rustic
past while using today’s environmentally sensitive
design and construction techniques.
This synthesis of past and present will create
visual harmony with the landscape setting and
functional harmony with the ecological setting.
That means construction must not consume
excessive materials and energy. It should restore
rather than disturb native vegetation, wetlands,
and other wildlife habitat. It should be built to last.
How can we make sustainable design a reality
within national forests? There is more than one
path because, by nature, sustainability varies to
meet the requirements of each individual setting.
In short, sustainability responds directly to its
context. The three most important contexts for
creating sustainable design are:
• Ecological: The natural forces that shape
landscape, including climate, geology, soils,
water, elevation, and vegetation.
• Cultural: The human forces that shape and
define landscape, including history, development
patterns, agriculture, and social uses.
• Economic: The budget realities and
cost-saving considerations that shape the
The following figure represents the intersection of
all three contexts to form a sustainable image.
Figure 2: Factors of Context for a Sustainable Image
1. Ecological Context- includes
• Landscape character
• Biophysical environment
2. Cultural/Social Context- includes
• Customer desires
• Architecture & art
3. Economic Context- includes
• Life cycle cost
• Energy & resources
• Human health
By exploring these contexts, we find new answers
to the questions that drive our building programs.
How can we improve working conditions? Serve
a growing number of visitors? Present a better
Forest Service image, even while budgets grow
tighter? Include the structures we design and
build as part of our stewardship of the land?
Keeping these contexts in mind, we can create
structures that complement, rather than
overwhelm, the landscape.