Part of the Msc in Architecture, Advanced Environmental and Energy studies at CAT is the politics module. It is a week crammed full of lectures, debates and workshops designed to give a broad perspective of ‘environmentalism’ and enable students to delve a little deeper into the politics. In this blog post Howard Miller, a student who took part in the module reflects on his learning experience.
As a long time subscriber to ‘The Economist’, the module awakened me to my ‘Green Capitalist’ theoretical standpoint. This is the idea that free market capitalism can be tweaked by adding green ‘compensatory’ measures such as carbon trading or offsetting via tree planting.
However, the book ‘Prosperity Without Growth’ by Tim Jackson was compelling. This challenges that GDP growth has ceased to be relevant to society in developed countries as once a certain level of wealth is achieved, it delivers diminishing returns of wellbeing. In fact, the continued fixation on growth (such as attempts to restore the status quo that existed before the 2008 financial crash) are counter-productive in that they fail to address problems we face such as caring for a large elderly population, providing affordable housing, or dealing with climate change. In pursuit of GDP, payment for care-homes, cleaning up pollution and rising house prices are positive as they add to the balance sheet, while caring for a relative in your own home or avoiding car use are negative.
In contrast, focusing on wellbeing as a policy aim would address these problems. For example financial support for carers looking after relatives could allow under-used housing to be made available while simultaneously reducing isolation amongst the elderly and sharing of the cost of heating.
‘Common Cause’ presented research during the module into how ‘Values’ motivate us to act in certain ways. They aimed to interrogate how marketing by environmental groups could be made more effective. For example, promoting insulation improvements by appealing to one’s values of ‘Wealth’, (e.g. by highlighting financial benefits) raises the stock of associated values such as achievement and authority at the expense of values more normally associated with environmental causes, such as benevolence and equality. The implication being that the short-term gain of campaigns could be at the expense of the wider cause.
To shift focus from valuing GDP to valuing wellbeing, a move away from values that promote self-enhancement towards values that surround societal benefit such as community, inclusivity, and responsibility are needed.
This realisation confronted how I thought about my work as an Architect. Looking through this lense, everything, especially buildings, could be considered an ‘advert’, asserting their values on society.
So-called ‘Green Architecture’ generally falls into one of two stylistic camps; ‘Hi-Tech’, which focuses on technology to reduce the environmental impact of a building, and ‘Hobbit-house’, which attempts to be low impact by embracing creativity and individualism. Neither of these styles reinforces values that underpin environmentalism. Hi-Tech is more closely associated with intelligence and power, while the hobbit-house look is associated with self-direction.
I left the module resolving to re-align my architectural design work to promote universal values such as broadmindedness, harmony with the natural environment, beauty, equality and social justice. Lets see what happens.