Sustainable Studies

I spent this morning in an exam for my Urban Sustainability course that’s been chugging along in the background this term. It comes under the lecture branch in our course called “Humanities” which is effectively the catch-all for anything that isn’t construction or design. Past iterations of the lecture series have covered Manchester’s history, academic theories on observation and some talk of the value of senses in architecture. This term the subject has been on sustainable development and its various forms in planning, construction, building use and design and it’s been a very interesting set of lectures. It’s also been given extra depth through the inclusion of guest lecturers, most of which have been published and their articles placed on the reading list. Over all it’s been great to have an area of study that’s focused on academic problems and the theory of a subject rather than the continual grind of deadlines and work over thought.

My problem comes when considering it’s placement in our time studying architecture. We have had assignments set around designing environmentally sound buildings since first year and we’ve been encouraged to sling PVs on roofs and bioswales around our buildings with only a vague theoretical knowledge of what we’re trying to accomplish. This lecture series has made it clear that not only is there environmental protection to ensure but also social equity and economic growth to encourage. To say “build a carbon-neutral sports centre” speaks only of a close-minded approach to how we should be tackling the problem of sustainability and I think it’s wrong to teach someone how a photovoltaic works before making the point that our development as a culture does not revolve solely around sustainable energies but rather around a holistic approach, creating societies that are responcible but also designed to prescibe better social practices. Enabling more prudent environmental behaviour in people is about more than ensuring that their bulbs are low-energy but rather about making more cycle sheds, creating a more diverse built environment and thinking of a city in terms of how sustainable the transport system, not what the most interesting buildings are.

I just feel that to learn about how something works from a technical level before understanding the whole picture is gung-ho and irresponsible as we, as architects, are extremely culpable for society’s behaviour. This is not just a science, it’s about understanding people and how our futures could evolve.

(below are some readings from the course which I found particularly interesting)

Sustainable Urban Forms – Jabareen 2006

Experts and their approaches – Brand 2007

Hasselt – a Case Study – Brand 2008

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