Anyone who attended the roundtable plenary session "New Directions in the Future of Healthcare Design--The Experts Speak Out" at this year's HEALTHCARE DESIGN.11 conference surely remembers the show-stopping moment when Kim E. Shinn, PE, LEED AP BD+C, CxA, Senior Sustainability Consultant, TLC Engineering, unleashed his impassioned 10+ minute monologue on sustainability. It was an inspired and inspiring moment that got to the true heart of what sustainability really means, divorced from all the buzz of "green" this and "environmentally friendly" that, a memorable set of thoughts in a discussion full of them. The round of applause that followed told you all you needed to know about how the HCD crowd felt about the topic, as well.

The real food for thought for me, however, came after the clapping died down. One of the other panelists, Debajyoti Pati, PhD, MASA, FIIA, LEED AP, Rockwell Endowment Professor at Texas Tech University, bravely followed Shinn's speech with a comment of his own. To paraphrase Dr. Pati, one can make any building as sustainable and green and environmentally friendly and LEED Platinum and the like, but if the building is not beautiful, none of that will matter; it will just be torn down eventually.

The panel and crowd nodded in agreement, but I was struck that Dr. Pati had uncovered the aspect of sustainable design that is seldom discussed or even acknowledged. It speaks to our culture, our tastes, and our sense of aesthteics as a society that even the most wonderfully designed facilities cannot and will not survive if at some point down the road, someone perceives the building as "ugly." Is this the generally shallow nature of mankind showing through? Or merely an under-admitted truth?

I suspect the real answer is a little of both. In any case, it provided not so much a wake-up call for me that morning, but more a timely reminder that at the end of the day, the timeless beauty of classic buildings around the world is what defines architecture, and on another level, society itself. The ugly buildings have been long since relegated to the scrap heap.