Going Beneath The Surface: The Role Of Knowledge In Aesthetic Appreciation And Sustainable Material Selection

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One of the barriers to successful sustainable design practices is the lack of an appropriate value-fit attributed to sustainable building materials by the users of the built environment or by the designers who create those spaces. While there have been significant advances in the various types of sustainable building products and the number of choices available, a new approach to furthering their desirability in hopes of increasing the use of sustainable materials is explored in this study. To start, an analysis of a new aesthetic theory is made, adapting the principles of a cognitive aesthetic experience to influence aesthetic appreciation of wall surface materials through evaluation beyond the traditional emphasis on beauty and intuition. Primarily, the theories of John Dewey, Martin Seel, Benedetto Croce, and others, are synthesized to formulate a method of promoting an aesthetic experience through the addition of knowledge. Using the principles of a cognitive aesthetic experience, a questionnaire was developed to test the hypothesis that aesthetic appreciation can be influenced by the addition of information. Specifically, that aesthetic value is higher for materials with greater sustainable quality than for materials of low sustainable quality when knowledge regarding the sustainability is provided. The same six item Likert scale questionnaire was used to gauge nine wall surface materials which consisted of three materials each of natural, somewhat natural, and not natural looking materials which crossed three levels of sustainability from low to high. The 127 participants from interior and architectural design and non-design fields were provided with either one of two types of information or no information regarding the sustainability quality of each material. Based on the analysis of the aesthetic response data, it was determined that in general, information did positively influence the aesthetic value of the more sustainable materials, and did negatively influence the value of the less sustainable materials. However, contrary to the extended hypothesis and aesthetic theorists, the paragraph form of information provided was not as influential as the fact chart information format, which resulted in a more accurate value-fit of the materials. Upon further analysis, it was also determined that the relationship of information level and sustainability ratings based on aesthetic responses was only statistically significant when in interaction with participant field and material look, or participant field and experience level. These analyses showed that the accuracy of the sustainable material to aesthetic value was significantly lower for designers based on material look, where natural looking materials always rated higher and not natural looking materials always rated lower, regardless of sustainability rating. Also, while experience level was not significant for designers, for non-designers with the most years of experience, sustainability qualities as provided in the information did not affect aesthetic rating. These results suggest that designers are still easily swayed by visual cues, and that those who are more likely to have less sustainable knowledge and awareness, such as the more experienced non-designers, do not count sustainability as a factor of aesthetic appreciation or desirability. Overall, this study provides evidence that a more appropriate value-fit of sustainable materials can be achieved by presenting information to the viewers, with the potential to influence the demand and thus the supply of sustainable building materials.

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sustainable design; knowledge; aesthetics


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Union Local


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Elliott, John Jack R.

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Gilgen, Peter

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M.A., Design

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Master of Arts

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dissertation or thesis

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