Monday, 12 May 2014

Why sustainability isn't just another 'ism' too



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.

Occasionally, a comment on one of my posts is better than the post, resurrects an issue I should have followed up myself, and generally deserves better than to be buried where too few will read it.  And so it is with my original post Why sustainability isn't just another 'ism' from way back in 2012.  To bring it up to date, it would be hard for me to do better than splice on a comment received anonymously, but which I know to be from one of my students.
I wrote:

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.

I think the following snippet gets me closer. It is a quote from an otherwise lightweight contribution by David Schlosberg to the Conversations web site. Read the whole article here.
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.

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.


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.

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.


To which Anonymous responded:
In my opinion, this 'resistance' to clear commitment to sustainability through bold and substantial changes to architectural design process and practice certainly operates within these 'corrupt' economic and political contexts mentioned by Schlosberg. Due to the doubt injected into the general consciousness of society by climate change deniers, inconsistent policy, and distortion of climate related facts and figures, significant commitments to sustainable change seem to be avoided. As suggested in your article ‘Knowing half or half knowing’ (posted 05/10/13), exact knowledge within the architectural sphere can sometimes be reduced to ‘general’ knowledge, especially in the science of climate change and sustainability.

The “power” that “trumps and corrupts knowledge” comes in both economic and political forms. While Australia’s own Prime Minister denies human caused climate change, America’s previous Bush administration had an active role in encouraging scientific doubt of climate change and climate data. An investigation headed by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that "nearly half of all respondents [climate scientists] perceived or personally experienced pressure to eliminate the words 'climate change,' 'global warming' or other similar terms from a variety of communications” (Francesca Grifo, Union of Concerned Scientists, quote sourced from www.commondreams.org/headlines07/0130-10.htm).




As radical design theorist Tony Fry suggests in his phrase of ‘sustainment’, a significant shift in the depth of knowledge and action on that knowledge needs to occur for a new age of an sustainability enlightenment. In his conception of ‘sustainment’, embracing sustainability is an inherent characteristic of a design, not an add on, as it is typically treated. In this light, sustainable architecture would be an all encompassing vision and deeply informed in all aspects, that focusses on the use as well as the construction of the building: “while buildings that have been designed to take energy and environmental performance into account are unquestionably superior to those that do not, this does not mean they are sustainable. For the ability to sustain turns on three things: the nature of the building itself; how building users use it; and what the building is used for.” (p. 188, Design Futuring: sustainability, ethics, and new practice, Tony Fry, 2009).




As architecture exists within these economic and political conditions, it is allied with similar corruptions. An architectural design can seek various environmental ratings, consider more environmentally friendly materials and features, and use “green imperatives”, but these are merely ‘additional’, rather than fully integrated and embraced. This is not a systematic change as encouraged by Fry or enough to heed Scholsberg’s question of adaption in regards to inevitable environmental changes. I fear your conclusion may be correct, that system deep changes will only arise when there is no other option.

References:
1. http://theconversation.com/we-cant-prevent-climate-change-so-what-should-we-do-5740
2.http://stevekingonsustainability.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/knowing-half-or-half-knowing.html
3. An online example of Tony Fry's work can be found at http://www.sciencedirect.com.wwwproxy0.library.unsw.edu.au/science/article/pii/S00163287110000734.http://www.commondreams.org/headlines07/0130-10.htm


5 comments:

Jeremy said...

It is not enough to establish a convenient narrow narrative of architecture and sustainability to being to effectively address the climate change issue. Architecture, like basically everything created by humanity, is a product of the sociopolitical context in which it exists. The currently reality of this context is a global society that is unconditionally driven by capital. This capitalist system has been characterised by a relentless desire for endless growth, ever increasing profit margins and infinite prosperity, often with a complete disregard for what Schlosberg calls the ‘enlightenment project’. Recent history is littered with such examples, from automotive companies successfully undermining mass transit infrastructure (and sustainable urbanism) to oil companies supposedly blocking the distribution of renewable fuels and technology (and sustainable energy production as a result). Unlike Schlosberg, I would then argue that it is not climate change that is challenging the ‘enlightenment project’ but the individual and corporate interests that exist within a capitalist system.

With this in mind the question becomes how might architects reinterpret their role in the push for widespread ecological and social sustainability in such a political system? I imagine that the answer transcends a technologist approach or even one which sees architects as simply creators of spaces; instead viewing the architect’s role as the orchestrator of social growth and insight, focusing on building communities of people and broader ecologies instead of just physical shelters. Facilitating community interaction is not only sustainable socially (as it fulfils our evolved desire to live in packs, as a result making us happy) but also ecologically when communities bring food production geographically closer to food consumption (and employs concepts of permaculture as a result, creating self-sufficiency).

If anything is clear from all the efforts of the last 30 years or so is that Einstein was right when he observed that our thinking must evolve beyond the level we were using when we created the problem in the first place. As architects we should do what we do best and think outside of the box and imagine a possibility beyond the brief of solving climate change with 'architecture'.

References:
1.The recent International Building Exhibit (IBA) in Hamburg - http://www.iba-hamburg.de/en/iba-in-english.html

2. Urban Framing Revolution in Cuba: http://www.architectural-review.com/comment-and-opinion/cubas-urban-farming-revolution-how-to-create-self-sufficient-cities/8660204.article?blocktitle=Most-popular&contentID=-1

3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_streetcar_conspiracy

4. Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough

5. Film: The Human Scale - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BxywJRJVzJs

Anonymous said...

Sustainability as what I remember from environment 1 is looking at the whole building’s life cycle from its siting to its demolition. This understanding of sustainability takes on a kind of system that recognizes architecture as part of a larger whole. Architecture is cyclic and not linear, a building still has an end of life. I believe this is the kind of thinking that is lacking in the architectural profession “operates in climate change denial mode”
I recently learned that this thinking is called “systems thinking.” Through a very interesting video of a speech given by Russell L. Ackoff. A system is a whole consisting of parts and these parts are interdependent on each other. If there is something that affects one part, it depends on another part to help fix it. Apart from this, each part cannot perform what the system as a whole does.
That whole is not just architecture, it is architecture and climate change and their interdependency. One cannot really perform on its own without ruining the other. It is common to think of sustainability with such a limited scope and only associate it with the use of “green imperatives.” In truth, it is really a fraction of the whole system and whole that needs to be considered in architecture, it’s only the surface. It is this shallow kind of thinking that need to be changed to a “systems thinking.”
A blog post by Eric Corey Freed suggests that when it comes to green building, architects are cowards. That they do not push for sustainable solutions to their clients unless initially suggested by the client themselves. I agree with him and really stop to ask what is stopping us architects?
Sources:
Building Ecoloy by Peter Graham
Russell L. Ackoff’s speech
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqEeIG8aPPk
Blog post by Eric Corey Freed
https://architizer.com/blog/the-green-building-reality-why-two-thirds-of-the-profession-are-cowards/

马可 said...

Sustainable Building should be designed and built within a sustainable plan rather than just put some sustainable elements into buildings. I think there are 2 points should be considered before the beginning of a sustainable building design.
The first point is if this design is human friendly. If a building is not suitable or convenient for people who live there, it would be useless. There are always some counterexamples especially in Countries with a high density of population. For example,in most Chinese Universities, most students’ apartments are only under 15m2 , but have a capacity of 4 to 6 students, the air condition and healing conditions are usually good and some even have the floor healing system. However, for people who live there would have little privacy to others. Basically, this kind of dwellings does reduce the energy consumption, but sacrificed the habitants’ benefits.
The second point is if this design could be used as a model to encourage people choosing the sustainable buildings as their first option. “The Nemausus I” could be seen as an example of good design of space using and extend the living area to the habitants. It also behavior an energy friendly experience to people when it was built. However, because of the good design, the final price for all those apartments are quite expensive which is opposite to the designer’s idea. Sustainability should not be the goods for one building, it should be like a bomb or a wave that could affect the way that how people think about the environment and encourage people to use it.

Reference:

Thormark C. A low energy building in a life cycle—its embodied energy, energy need for operation and recycling potential[J]. Building and environment, 2002, 37(4): 429-435.

Williamson T J, Radford A D, Bennetts H. Understanding sustainable architecture[M]. Spon Press, 2003.

Pickles said...

Australia’s Sustainable Façade.
Australian Architecture, represented by ‘the Institute’ is acutely aware of the true climate change and sustainability issues the developing world reluctantly faces. The website manifesto moves past shallow dabbling in green jargon, stating “The Institute affirms the responsibility of the architectural profession, as a key player in the construction industry, to embrace an integrated approach to ecological, social and economic sustainability.” There industry is full of professionals urging change beyond low embodied energy materials and carbon neutrality points, including David Baggs. His Paper “Beyond Carbon Neutrality: Strategies for reductive & restorative sustainability”, Baggs assesses the ‘un-sustainability’ of current development suggesting radical change should mitigate climate change if implemented by governing bodies.
As mentioned in the Host post, Schlosberg references the Enlightenment Project; ideal society employing experts to ‘identify issues, create goals from scientific research and expecting policy in response.’ Sustainability now needs to be rooted in design long before material choices; this ‘true enlightenment’ would see a new lens employed across all sectors to ensure sustainable definition and a standard unifying the industry before it hopes to achieve success. This is the crucial point in which Australian Architecture, seeking true sustainability, is let down by external forces. There is a clear disconnect between reality in professional practice, industry ideals, and policy in place. Schlosberg mentions the deliberate corruption of knowledge lead on a global scale and earlier posts on this blog reference Francesca Grifo: Union of Concerned Scientists who reports the scientific industry being silenced/ influenced against authentic dialog on the topic.
The Federal budget handed down last week, further lights this issue. Under Tony Abbott, less than half the A$2.55 Billion Emissions Reduction Fund will now be spent over the next 4 year. This follows the Howard’s previous $360M unspent budget and a third of budgets from 199 –2006 not spent on Climate change initiatives, (The Age, May 9, 2007). Peter Costello has previously stated climate change as “one of the serious long-term threats” to Australia’s future, but the government continually undermines its own major initiatives against global warming.
The Institute of Architects has an Environmental Policy with specific objectives for industry professionals and a Sustainability Policy detailing actions for government and broader industry that it “believes will drive the necessary changes.” But how is the industry and society to respond in the face of blatant disregard from Power? You only have to look as far as the government budget and sustainability website www.yourhome.gov.au/ Simple links are available on house hold sustainable practice but a full guide to is A$35 [inc GST] “plus delivery”. This feels like a slap in the face after significant budgets withheld and the problem only growing. It shows the shallow level of investment given in the face of the sizable issue. David Baggs notes the problem has already grown beyond preventative and now extends into restorative measures “if we are to prevent dangerous climate change and achieve a sustainable built environment.” Come on Australia, get real.
REFERENCES:
1.AIA: http://www.architecture.com.au/architecture/national/sustainability
2.Online Paper: “Beyond Carbon Neutrality: Strategies for reductive and restorative sustainability” David Baggs BArch: file:///C:/Users/z3216701/Downloads/EDG64_PRO38.pdf
3.The Age, Fair Fax Media: http://www.theage.com.au/news/business/climate-change-gets-more-but-will-they-spend-it-all/2007/05/08/1178390306045.html
5.Your Home: http://www.yourhome.gov.au/
6. http://theconversation.com/we-cant-prevent-climate-change-so-what-should-we-do-5740
7. Host Blog reference. Francesca Grifo, Union of Concerned Scientists www.commondreams.org/headlines07/0130-10.htm


Pickles said...

Australia’s Sustainable Façade.
Australian Architecture, represented by ‘the Institute’ is acutely aware of the true climate change and sustainability issues the developing world reluctantly faces. The website manifesto moves past shallow dabbling in green jargon, stating “The Institute affirms the responsibility of the architectural profession, as a key player in the construction industry, to embrace an integrated approach to ecological, social and economic sustainability.” There industry is full of professionals urging change beyond low embodied energy materials and carbon neutrality points, including David Baggs. His Paper “Beyond Carbon Neutrality: Strategies for reductive & restorative sustainability”, Baggs assesses the ‘un-sustainability’ of current development suggesting radical change should mitigate climate change if implemented by governing bodies.
As mentioned in the Host post, Schlosberg references the Enlightenment Project; ideal society employing experts to ‘identify issues, create goals from scientific research and expecting policy in response.’ Sustainability now needs to be rooted in design long before material choices; this ‘true enlightenment’ would see a new lens employed across all sectors to ensure sustainable definition and a standard unifying the industry before it hopes to achieve success. This is the crucial point in which Australian Architecture, seeking true sustainability, is let down by external forces. There is a clear disconnect between reality in professional practice, industry ideals, and policy in place. Schlosberg mentions the deliberate corruption of knowledge lead on a global scale and earlier posts on this blog reference Francesca Grifo: Union of Concerned Scientists who reports the scientific industry being silenced/ influenced against authentic dialog on the topic.
The Federal budget handed down last week, further lights this issue. Under Tony Abbott, less than half the A$2.55 Billion Emissions Reduction Fund will now be spent over the next 4 year. This follows the Howard’s previous $360M unspent budget and a third of budgets from 199 –2006 not spent on Climate change initiatives, (The Age, May 9, 2007). Peter Costello has previously stated climate change as “one of the serious long-term threats” to Australia’s future, but the government continually undermines its own major initiatives against global warming.
The Institute of Architects has an Environmental Policy with specific objectives for industry professionals and a Sustainability Policy detailing actions for government and broader industry that it “believes will drive the necessary changes.” But how is the industry and society to respond in the face of blatant disregard from Power? You only have to look as far as the government budget and sustainability website www.yourhome.gov.au/ Simple links are available on house hold sustainable practice but a full guide to is A$35 [inc GST] “plus delivery”. This feels like a slap in the face after significant budgets withheld and the problem only growing. It shows the shallow level of investment given in the face of the sizable issue. David Baggs notes the problem has already grown beyond preventative and now extends into restorative measures “if we are to prevent dangerous climate change and achieve a sustainable built environment.” Come on Australia, get real.
REFERENCES:
1.AIA: http://www.architecture.com.au/architecture/national/sustainability
2.Online Paper: “Beyond Carbon Neutrality: Strategies for reductive and restorative sustainability” David Baggs BArch: file:///C:/Users/z3216701/Downloads/EDG64_PRO38.pdf
3.The Age, Fair Fax Media: http://www.theage.com.au/news/business/climate-change-gets-more-but-will-they-spend-it-all/2007/05/08/1178390306045.html
5.Your Home: http://www.yourhome.gov.au/
6. http://theconversation.com/we-cant-prevent-climate-change-so-what-should-we-do-5740
7. Host Blog reference. Francesca Grifo, Union of Concerned Scientists www.commondreams.org/headlines07/0130-10.htm