Something has bothered me for a long time: Why I have felt that issues of climate change, and especially serious issues of sustainability (as distinct from green tech-bling) are not just another of the contestable issues in architecture? I have been unwilling to engage in an impassioned debate about it, because I simply had not got to the heart of the matter.
Federal Building, San Francisco by Pritzker winner Thom Mayne. Rating in the bottom 15th percentile for user satisfaction, and barely able to raise a LEED rating. But lauded as sustainable by the architects.
Climate change challenges the whole enlightenment project – the dream that reason leads us to uncover truths, and those truths lead to human progress and improvement.My emphasis. Because my problem as an educator is that I have seen the Architecture profession mostly operate in climate change denial mode for at least thirty years. And worse, I have watched the architectural academe evolving to a greater and greater concentration of ‘theorists’ who give the profession the justification for their attitudes and practices.
We imagine we live in a rational, enlightened society. In such a place, experts would identify issues to be addressed, and goals to be reached, in response to our creation of climate change. Scientific knowledge would be respected and accepted (after peer review, of course), and policy would be fashioned in response.
The reality is that we frequently have direct intervention explicitly designed to break the link between knowledge and policy; we have seen just how easy it is for power to trump and corrupt knowledge, on a global scale. In fact, organised climate change denialists, and the political figures that support them, have done more to damage the ideals of the enlightenment than any so-called postmodern theorist.
Arguably, the entrenched mechanisms of esteem in the Architecture profession play exactly the same role in 'trumping and corrupting knowledge', as Schlosberg implicitly attributes to the miners’ influence on Australian federal politicians. This diagnosis is not new; Wayne Attoe identified it in his 1978 classic, Architecture and Critical Imagination, albeit more as a corruption of knowledge by 'architecture as a business.'
There is an undeniable rise of 'green' imperatives in commercial architectural practice, but I still see more effort put into resisting commitment to actual sustainability, than progress towards it. And I see little or no evidence that architectural academia is about to abandon its collusion in characterising sustainability as marginal to true architecture. Sooner or later, we won't have that luxury.
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