Thursday, 11 September 2008
Green is the new black: architects take on sustainability
My day job is teaching in a university architecture program. I teach a studio every semester, yet I seem to rarely offer a special 'sustainability themed' project. This is partly because for many years, the architecture profession itself has managed to make it clear to its members, through its writings and awards, that any building that was recognisably concerned with being sustainable was not likely to be real ARCHITECTURE. And while I didn't ever toe that line, most of my students have been fatally influenced by it.
So recent events have surprised and delighted me. This semester, I offered a studio with two 'sustainability themed' competitions as projects. I wrote the brief to challenge my students, to explicitly consider the perception problem I describe above. Well, the first project is submitted, and we have just found out that all four of the schemes selected for the final judging in the Sustainable Buildings 08 international conference Student Competition are from my studio. In fact, every student in the class is a member of a premiated team! That is thrilling.
But much more thrilling is that as soon as I wrote the introduction to the studio, lambasting my profession for not merely ignoring, but demonising architects who try for more sustainable buildings, the local NSW Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects announced its 2008 Awards. And they were notably dominated by buildings with profound sustainability sensibilities.
The highest accolade, the Sulman Medal for a public building, went to a small, exquisite education centre, not only scrupulously exploring a number of energy and water conserving technologies, but rigorously reusing the disassembled components of existing temporary classroom buildings already on the site.
The Wilkinson Award for a single house went to a rammed earth building. An Architecture Award was garnered by adaptive reuse of a progressively modernist 1960's university building, whose concrete cancer riddled facade would otherwise have condemned it to oblivion. Another went to the imaginative reuse of a historic railway carriage works as a setting for all kinds of unconventional theatre.
The official press release is well worth reading. It is an affirmation of faith in architecture that is simply good, sensitive, enduring and even self-effacing. Without saying so outright, it is a challenge to the aggressive posturing, unbridled scramble for novelty, the size, profligacy and expendability of the placeless objects that have so dominated the architectural hotspots of Beijing and the Gulf states for so long. For a change, I am proud of my profession.
I had to issue a revised version of my studio handout.