Literature review: The application of sustainability in Architecture, the need for change

“Every great movement must experience three stages: ridicule, discussion and adoption”

(Mill, n.d as cited by Mclennan 2004).

The sustainable movement has been ridiculed by many since its emergence in the 60’s (Van Hinte, Neelen, Vink and Vollaard, 2003, p.7) and the literature suggests that it has only been in the past few decades that the discussion about sustainability in architecture has really started, and has become a popular topic during the past 5-10 years.

The purpose of this literature review is to assess the current level of sustainable concepts integrated into architecture. To determine at what stage sustainable architecture is currently at.

There is an environmental need for the building sector to develop and widely adopt the concepts of sustainability. Van der Ryn, (1996) states that we cannot design in the image of the machine anymore, an image of an energy consuming mechanical building. This implies a need for change in architectural design and calls for architects to start designing for the future. Henriques, (2012) describes that change at all levels depend on a new sustainability culture becoming commonplace. Similarly Schwarz, (2010) believes that “the sustainability revolution is in essence a revolution of culture.” However, Vaze and Tindale, (2011) argue that all public policy involves a cultural change and that often it takes something extreme and drastic that affects the public directly to implement change. Thus, the views of Vaze and Tindale (2011) can be interpreted as posing as “a very Faustian choice: whether to accept our corrosive and risky behaviour as unavoidable, or to take stock of ourselves and search for a new environmental ethic” (Wilson, as cited in Vaze and Tindale, 2011). Therefore this literature review will discuss whether architecture can influence a change in perception of sustainability in architecture and inspire people to take action, it will also address architects responsibilities in implementing sustainable concepts into architecture.

Mclennan, (2004, p.6) believes that sustainable design implies “responsibility and a far-reaching respect for natural systems and resources, respect for people and for the cycle of life” and therefore implies that architects who impact directly upon the landscape have a responsibility to make sure their work responds delicately to the environment. As Wilson and Bryant, (1997) similarly state, architects decisions directly impact upon the environment on which other people depend. Architecture influences our every day lives; it impacts and controls everything we do.

Consequently Design therefore may be a powerful tool that could be used to influence a cultural change and help the drive toward a sustainable Britain. As McDonough, (2007) states, “Design is the first signal of human intention.” Likewise Van Der Ryn, (1996) states that the environmental crisis is a design crisis and it is the design process that needs to be tackled before true adoption and understanding of sustainability can arise. “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us” (Winston Churchill as cited in Kats 2010). Butters, (2008) agrees, In assuming that the problem has to do with resistance to change, he states that architects have the ability through design to implement social change. However, Raymond, (2012) points out that design itself cannot provide the solution but never the less can be a force for change.

The need to raise awareness and popularity about sustainability now may be greater than true sustainable design, because for acceptance; Pelsmakers, (2012) believes that architects need to be inspired by successful sustainable design. Architects solve problems creatively (RIBA, 2011) and the efficiency of architecture is a problem that can also be solved creatively. Successful projects that achieve efficiency creatively, that maximize life quality and minimize environmental impact may lead to an increase in popularity, and therefore could lead to acceptance of sustainable concepts on a larger scale. (Hosey, 2012) agrees long term value is impossible without sensory appeal, because if design doesn’t inspire, it is destined to be discarded.

However Hosey, (2012) argues that sustainability, through its emphasis on efficiency has lost emphasis on aesthetic. Hosey, (2012) states that because sustainable architecture has focused on environmental impact and not aesthetics, we are left with numerous unattractive sustainable buildings, which in turn does not lead to public popularity. Hosey writes, “Originally, the concept of sustainability promised to broaden the purpose of contemporary design, specifically by adding ethics to aesthetics, but instead it has virtually replaced aesthetics with ethics by providing clear and compelling standards for one and not the other.” Hosey, (2012) points out that beauty should be a fundamental component of sustainability and that an ugly building is more likely to be torn down and replaced, he states that “something that does not last is by definition unsustainable” (Hosey, 2012). Attractiveness is not considered essential to sustainable design (Hosey, 2012). In addition Hosey, (2012) states, “Aesthetic attraction is not a superficial concern- it is an environmental imperative. Beauty could save the planet.” Realising the importance of aesthetic in sustainable architecture is key in the successful implementation of sustainable concepts in architecture. Hosey, (2012) asks, “can we be as smart about how things look as we are about how they work?”

There is a contradictory argument of attractive design vs. efficient design in sustainable architecture, as beautiful form can develop from ultimate efficiency. Nature, for example, can be used as a precedent with the most beautiful forms that are definitively the way they are due to efficiency, use and habitat; very similar to architectural design: use, users, context, and form. Nature can be thought of as the most beautiful and sustainable design that provides all its own needs through natural form. Hosey, (2012) agrees saying, “If sustainable design is intended to act like nature, it should knock your socks off.” Nevertheless in understanding form and sustainability architects can design buildings that are efficient, environmentally friendly and beautiful. Understanding form creates beauty and efficiency, of which both are critical to sustainable architecture.

Beautiful iconic buildings by famous architects inspire the profession and the public, so there is potential for beautiful sustainable buildings that focus on the design as a whole, with in-depth thought on aesthetics combined with efficiency to do the same. The environment opens a door for architects to be creative in a new manor not form follows function but form can create efficiency. If sustainable concepts were applied creatively it can in fact increase beauty and formal elegance within a project rather than hinder architectural quality (Hosey, 2012). Beauty, however, is in the eye of the beholder, and Alter, (2012) describes beauty as design that moves the head and the heart; which coincides with Pelsmakers, (2012) idea that inspiration can inform change.

RIBA appear positive about a transition and too believe sustainable design can enhance creativity in design. However, as a representative body of architects their beliefs appear to not transcend to the wider body of practices or in education (Mclennan, 2004). RIBA recognize that the architect’s role in the sustainable design of buildings is an extremely important one. As Brady, Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) president (as cited in Sullivan, 2012), states, “as architects we know that good design improves our quality of life, in all areas of work rest and play and impacts on our health. Our work as professionals seeks to create a healthy built environment, which enhances the natural environment, society and our economy.” Similarly implied by Sullivan, (2012) and Raymond, (2012) that the architect’s role should in fact be sustainable by definition as “The role of an architect is to respond to environmental social and economical needs”. Which corresponds with the three principles of sustainability (Raymond 2012). Sustainable design falls within all aspects of the architect’s role yet it still seems to be over looked. Van Der Ryn (1996) claims that sustainability was the mantra of the 90’s, and for many architects and designers it continues to be a mantra to this day. Almost everyone can be considered aware of the need for sustainability, and it appears most are now beginning to incorporate sustainability into their lives and profession, but to what extent is subject for debate.