The much used term ‘Sustainability’ has been a great driver for awareness of the resource and environmental issues that face current and future generations but I believe its misuse or overuse is starting to dilute not only what is possible but what we should all be doing. Technically architecture (as we know it) is not a sustainable activity unless we can utilize renewable resources from within our ‘fair earth share’ of ecological footprint, currently about 1.7 hectares per person on earth (see NZ Footprint project by Otago Polytechnic Centre for Sustainability).
This may be an impossible task but we need to seriously review how we build particularly in terms of embodied energy of materials, size of building for purpose, durability and adaptability. Sticking a solar panel on your house or marketing your existing building products under the label of ‘Future Proof Building’ does not make you sustainable.
For example; in the Houses (NZ) Winter 2011 magazine there is a feature on a new contemporary residence with a designers note that ‘’ Sustainability was also important, and the house utilizes solar hot water and rainwater recycling’’. These are great things to do but this is for a single bedroom 200m2 house with full height glazing to about 70% of the exterior walls with air conditioning as a heat source.
Also the designers behind the new Wanaka Lakes Health Centre claim ‘sustainable design was a key consideration with approved green build materials and energy efficient services design…’ Sustainability doesn’t come into my mind when I view that the new building in effect is a large shed with a very deep floor plate (30 x 54 metres?) that relies on mechanical services and light . There was so much scope to employ natural ventilation and lighting rather than rely on ‘energy efficient’ mechanical services; the costs in allowing openings within the plan would offset the costs for increasing the size of services to create an artificial environment and would have greatly reduced the running costs over the life of the building.
So the Sustainable banner comes out again and again but I think we need to try a little harder than this if we truly want to work within our limited resources whilst creating architecture that truely delights.