An Ecology of Living
Reflecting on Sustainable Architecture and Urbanism as ‘An Ecology of Living’_Susan Parham
Reflecting on sustainable architecture and urbanism in terms of ‘an ecology of living’ and the nature of what constitutes sustainable architecture in those terms might seem rather obvious. This would be architecture of buildings and places that meets our needs by responding to the environmental, social and economic imperatives laid out by Brundtland and beyond. But scratch below the surface and you start to find that what’s considered sustainable in architecture and urbanism depends very much on where you are coming from on this topic. In relation to buildings, for instance, your wonderful green high rise might be my problematic vertical cul-de-sac. In this article, I try to sketch out how our understanding of sustainable architecture (mostly reflected in building design) has evolved; some of the areas of contestation about what constitutes such sustainability and suggest tentatively some salient characteristics that sustainable architecture and urbanism might share.
When did we start consciously thinking and talking about ‘sustainable’ architecture and ‘green’ buildings anyway? In traditional settlements we built what we could in places where it made sense to do so for strategic, trade, liveability and statecraft reasons. Most urban ‘fabric’ architecture created urbanism that reflected what was available locally in the way of materials; and the needs and constraints imposed by the local climate, topography and staying connected to agricultural land. States, religious authorities and the privately wealthy (who could deploy more resources than others) might use materials and designs that were far more elaborate than this fabric norm but these were the few intentionally remarkable buildings, not day-to-day ones. Perhaps most relevant was that architecture made buildings which were almost always part of and understood to be part of places, not just sculptural objects in an unconsidered, irrelevant void.
Green Future_Simo Corda
Current demographic, economic and social changes transform the way we think about the future focusing it on the relationship between humans and environment. Usually this is addressed from a quantitative perspective, which is definitely a fertile base of discussion, on the other hand it is reductive to believe that any tentative of steering the change can simply rely on numerical data as communication tool. From an architectural perspective, since the seventies environmental strategies were integrated in buildings in an increasingly successful way, passive energy design was revitalized and integrated by new technology. Vegetation has also become more often a defining component of the most cutting edge projects. Through time and experience the technical resolution of sustainability has finally become secondary to other aspects in the project. This trend allowed the architects’ investigation to shift towards a more rounded environmental approach, which implied a better consideration of the cultural values of a project. A range of buildings have been used to communicate the importance of the sustainability in everyday life and inspire people for a more sensible environmental attitude. This is perhaps the key to shape the role that architecture can play in the evolution process: making sustainability a necessary and beautiful way of living.