What is sustainable architecture? Is it an architectural movement, like modernism or brutalism? Perhaps not, as there’s no distinct aesthetic. Is it a high rating under BREEAM, LEED or CfSH? Probably not as these are designed to bring conventional design into the sustainable sphere, not as effective design tools for an already sustainable brief. Is it Passivhaus? Biomimicry? Passive Solar? Carbon sequestering? High-tech? Low-tech? A promise?
This fascinating debate centres on the undefinable definition of human sustainability, which was the underlying theme for the most recent module I studied at CAT. The essential paradox, that Peter Harper would probably call a ‘wicked question’ is that buildings are inherently bad for the environment, but necessary for civilisation.
Sustainable architecture could then be a balance between environment and civilisation, well, it will have to be; if humans had the choice between the two and not a balance, history suggests we would choose the latter, even though we know it to be counter-active as civilisation is dependent on the environment.
Another option is to eradicate the separating terminology between man and nature, such as the philosophy set by Aldo Leopold in ‘The Land Ethic’; ‘…changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it’. If this philosophy were taken, the choice above would no longer be relevant. Even so, the main question (title) remains.
The problem to me, as an architectural designer is that to produce sustainable buildings, one must take the idea ‘sustainable’ and create a physical, functioning reality. If the idea in itself is one of unknown definition, how is it possible to solidly embody it?