Friday, 15 February 2013

"Sorry green design, it's over"

When you want to rip into something, it's really hard to come up with a title that is more damning than their own headline.

I compulsively check the website Dezeen for what is the latest in architecture and design.  The site isn't particularly good, its editorial content and editorial style formulaic, but it's quickly accessible, carries lots of images, and importantly for me it often has drawings of buildings that it publicises.  Well, today I got my just deserts.  If I ever wanted confirmation that the design community may aptly be compared with the most parasitic manifestations of fashion generally, this article by editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs couldn't do a better job.
".....sustainability turned out to be unsustainable. We just didn't have the time; we couldn't afford to be green. We thought the products looked ugly. We didn't enjoy the preachiness or the guilt."
trumpets the editor somewhere around the middle of his rant, the culmination of the litany of one liners glibly conflating sustainability with the handmade and with one-off up-cycling.  I read on, desperately waiting for the hook, thinking I'm being wound up for the real message.  But it turns out that is the real message of this article.
"'s message did not adapt and it ran out of steam. It fell foul of the law of diminishing returns: it's easy to make the first cut in your carbon footprint, but every subsequent one gets more difficult. And because the back-to-nature, made-do-and-mend doctrine supped from a limited gene pool of visual stimulus, it became an aesthetic trap. Once you've hewn furniture from raw timber, there's not much further you can go.
Technology however is intrinsically optimistic: each new development, each new device brings the promise of a new future. Each new way of arranging atoms or bits opens the door to a new solution cloaked in a new form. And since these elements are infinitely configurable, technological development is more sustainable than sustainability, since it will never run out of ideas."
I know, the word 'sustainable' was really debased almost as soon as it was defined, along with the much more problematic metaphor of 'green'.  But don't these people get it?  Sustainability isn't about engaging the attention span of a bright young thing with a high pain threshold for tight pants but a low one for diminishing returns.

For anybody who thinks, 'sustainable' never was confined to the exaggeratedly, and exploitatively organic.  It always engaged the potential of technology to change the balance between consumption and irreversible exploitation.  Perhaps there was reason to be sceptical that you could have such a thing as healing architecture, for instance.  But yes, we did develop LED lights and low consumption computer displays, and high yield photovoltaics all at the same time, so that we can begin to think of future buildings as giving back more than they take.  All that an article like this does, is to deny that complexity which has always been the promise of design, and substitutes for it a glib superficiality.  Okay, I know it has always been like this.  But it still hurts.

If you are a masochist, read the full article here.

And for balance, to explain why the editor's stand might be perfectly understandable, glance at this article, also in the same day's Dezeen.  It is on the work of Sou Fujimoto with the image of Final Wooden House as its anchor.


Frank CHIN said...

Agreeing with your thoughts, I find that Marcus Fairs discussion is quite one sided, where he only justifies the, what seems as the "limits" of sustainability (or rather the fact that he has a blunt perception where he believes that sustainability and technological development are completely different entities, which could not work with one another).

Yes, I will agree that sustainability is limited right now, but that is only due to our demographic lifestyle where money is far more of a concern as you have alliterated in dot points in your earlier discussion "2013 - Year of Climate Decision." BUT I disagree with his phrase(ing) that "sustainability turned out to be unsustainable" in short a dead end road.

Further dwelling in his discussion he adds in, "Tech has killed green.," making it quite striking at first. We think, yes, objects such as cars creating a massive carbon foot print are killing the ideas of green. But he makes a big mistake within his literature, stating the fact that tech and green will never work together. To argue, I say "Tech is the green."

Numerous advancements have been made, where NEW IDEAS has been formed to create sustainability. Recently there has been a new method where technology has created a more sustainable method of concrete construction. To view this new innovation click here.

Secondly, sustainability isn't just a physical thing as Fairs tries to support his argument by bombarding the fact about physical technology. Sustainability can become an incentive such as the world wide success of "Earth Hour" where it encourages everyone to turn off their lights for 1hr at a particular time thus reducing energy and sustaining our energy resource.View there website:

Not to discredit Fair completely as he does make a fair point BUT he does need to expand and consider that green design and tech are entities that can complement one another.


huy said...

The article of editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs, he deny the cooperation of sustainability and technology in built environment, I don’t agree with his opinion, I believe sustainability and technology are something that can go together and support each others, tech doesn’t kill green. “Sustainable design is the thoughtful integration of architecture with electrical, mechanical, and structural engineering” ( ).
In technological frontier, we create sustainable materials, devices, etc that have less negative effects to the environment and in design aspect, we design building that maximise their uses. The designs with environmental strategies are supported by technological materials to created sustainable building, for example the UTAS school of Fine Furniture ( Another instance, Glass is created by technology but the design decide where the curtain walls are and how much glass should be used to maximise natural lights but still keep the house warm and cool enough as well as being harmony with the social sense.
He said “Once you've hewn furniture from raw timber, there's not much further you can go”. Our demands damage environment, yes, but we have to exploit environment to support for our basic life demands, the thing that we can do is not stop exploiting natural resources but stop wasting these resources. We cut the raw timber to make furniture, yes, we do need furniture, the further we can go is change the life style of wasting thing, simple design to minimise the use of timber, using the type of timbers that easy to grow, apply technology to protect and enhance endurance the lifespan of timbers in the furniture, smart design for disassemble to maximise its capable of recycling.
“back-to-nature” is not “an aesthetic trap”, “back-to-nature” is not using timbers everywhere to make the building reflect the image of nature, that is the way we design which materials should be used, which materials will bring more benefit for the environment, if cutting trees that are grown a lot around the building site in a rural area to construct the building, it will create less carbon emission than carrying cements from far away to the building site.