How Can An Architect Step Away From Sustainability
The three principles of a good building, according to Roman architect Vitruvius, were durability, beauty, and utility, and in this modern age sustainability has similarly made its way to the forefront of architecture. Achieving a client’s goal is still the looming power over architecture, however, there seems to have been a global recognition that the ability of a building to minimise environmental affects measures its success. Despite the ever-increasing number of clients demanding sustainable work, many architects are disregarding their focus on sustainability for a number of reasons; the potentially constricting limits that sustainability creates, the potential waste of time due to human inability to retain a sustainable lifestyle, the higher expenses associated, and, surprisingly, a third of architects simply disagree with the need for sustainability, 13% believing climate change to be a myth. A Gallup poll surveying 980 architects found that:
For a simple analysis of the potential effectiveness of these reasons to not incorporate eco-friendly designs, each justification will be rated on a scale 1-3 in morality, ability to shift blame, and the amount of work and effort required to support you.
Although architects must be aware of their surroundings, there is debate to how much sustainability should be allowed to affect one’s design, and if an architect should weaken their creative direction to accommodate. Structures designed for sustainability tend to be rectangular in shape and less appealing to consumers, as well as requiring a reduced number of windows and more walls instead of preferred open space design. In 2002, 80% of surveyed architects claimed that sustainability would be needed for a design to be considered “good” in 8-9 years, however Vanity Fair on the greatest buildings in 2010 revealed no buildings that were considered the ‘greenest buildings’ by design experts, the overlap between the two non-existent. Peter Eisenman, National Design Award winner, claimed that “Green and sustainability have nothing to do with architecture”, and Frank Gehry, Pritzker Prize winner, claimed green building standards to be bogus. Even though he later corrected himself to agree that “green buildings (are) something architects need to be concerned with”, many architects call his works a ‘waste’ in terms of sustainability.
It seems architects pursuing creative design over sustainability is a familiar rationalisation. Not all are on the side of art, journalist Lance Hosey defined architecture-artist as one ‘of the most enduring myths of the profession’, only succeeding in justifying waste and unnecessary expenses. The KFW Westarkade by Sauerbruch Hutton was designed for increased sustainability and 70% energy reduction through thoughtful passive ventilation, and resulted in what is considered the most elegant buildings in Europe . So, should you as an architect forgo sustainable design in your desire to increase control over your aesthetic visions? Morally it’s low, a 1 really, to raise the importance of your aesthetic over the renewal and maintenance of the global planet. The ability of shifting blame is similarly low at 1 as this revolves around your beliefs and ability to shoulder your justification of the importance of your art. Which brings us to effort required. A 2 is fair, as it will mostly depend on the wishes of your client, how invested they are in sustainability, and how much effort is required to shift them from this expectation.
Many architects overlook the complexity of the consumers that will inhabit their designs, and the comprehensive lifestyle that many sustainable buildings require. Considering that the highest-ranking criteria for design is the satisfaction of the occupants, establishing an understanding of the lifestyle cost of sustainability is crucial. Living a sustainable lifestyle is more than a green building, it requires a change in lifestyle, sorting rubbish uses time and effort, and solar panels remain a specialist supply that many electricians won’t repair. The current ability to leave a “normal modern” lifestyle is impossible alongside a perfectly green one . Humans are creatures of habit, leaving behind modern conveniences like cars, central heating, and excess electricity, that people have worked hard to acquire is virtually impossible,
causing eco-friendly alternatives to be a more attractive solution than a completely sustainable lifestyle commitment. This human complexity is something to consider as an architect but taking an all or nothing stance to justify dismissing sustainability completely due to these complexities is a far reach. Morally, you could argue your way to a 2, as properly and fully informing the client of lifestyle difficulties is commendable. However, approaching this as an uncompromisable situation is simply not true, there are many simple solutions to increase sustainability to a manageable degree without forgoing it entirely. Shifting blame holds the same complications being a 2, although it may fall more so on the clients and residents themselves, you will still have to justify the incapability to meet and solve demands and have increased your limitations as an architect. Ease of effort receives a 1, as to convince a client of their own inabilities and faults is exceptionally difficult as well as dangerous for your reputation and standing as an architect.
Eco-friendly green buildings were found to cost an average of 2% more to build than traditional buildings, higher starting costs being the most common criticism, 80% of professionals naming it as the “biggest obstacles of green buildings”. Architect Castrucci openly criticises pursuits for LEED certifications as an unnecessary difficulty due to the cost; “It would have cost $40,000 for paperwork on this project”. Senior Executive Director of the Housing Industry Association Kristin Brookfield claims efficiency to be a mixed bag in terms of cost and limited consistency depending on a number of variations including location and climate. However, despite this, evidence is showing in increasingly common amounts that a more sustainable performance does not always mean a higher cost. National Renewable Energy Laboratory record that modern improvements achieve a 50-60% energy consumption reduction at no additional cost when compared to a traditional building, and ENERGY STAR found that in over 1million qualified homes in the US, a total of more than $270 million were saved in utility bills alone. In terms of more generalised housing revenue, commercial eco-friendly buildings found to occur a 8-9% decrease in costs, 7.5% increase in building value and a 6.6% return on investments. In relation to our scale, the substantial initial investments required by many eco-friendly designs, especially for private residences decrease the effort needed, however this would require the client to refrain from doing their own further research to the eventual financial benefits, bringing overall effort to a 2. Similarly to ease of effort, shifting blame receives a 2. Blaming fundamental expenses out of your control is a simple solution as it is the necessary basic equipment and materials that cause the price inflation rather than the design itself, however it too would require a client to have little knowledge surrounding passive designs that allow for some reductions in waste and energy usage, especially in the ways of heating needs. Morality wise, I have to admit, is low at a 1, although expenses can be increased during the construction of the building, relying on continual expenses to deter clients would ultimately be a lie, and a client would soon discover on their own the ability of sustainability to save expenses in the long run.
Perhaps you are part of the 13% of architects that do not believe in the need for sustainability and only perceive it as a passing trend that will disappear into obscurity eventually, or the 71% of architects that have colleagues who are in this category  and want to know where this controversial rationalisation ranks. For the purpose of this article, this reasoning has been ranked as a 1 on every scale. The effort to oppose 90% of scientist that believe human activity to be the leading cause of rising temperatures, as well as a greater percentage of 97.4% of climatologists, requires unwavering conviction and commitment to an ultimately losing cause. Even if you manage to work with one of the 42% of general public that believe human activity does not have an effect on climate change and global warming, you will be hard pressed to find a public construction project that does not outline sustainability as a critical design condition. There are none to little favourable aspects of holding this belief in this day and age, and let’s be honest, you’ll find difficulty in being taken seriously as an architect or really as a professional.
Considering that buildings contribute nearly half of total energy consumption, and three quarters of electricity in the US it is no surprise (to the 87% of us that believe in the effect of human activity and climate change) that sustainability is leading the evolution of architecture into the next development in design and construction. Not only are there the previously mentioned financial benefits, but green buildings further contribute to environmental and social health benefits and conservation efforts . There are few disadvantages to accepting this movement, whether it be a trend or it be essential for the restoration of the environmental world. Even removed from the initial design phases, “greening” a previously built building can still reduce numerous
operational costs, increase efficiency, and greatly minimise disruptive effects on the environment at little or no additional cost. Ultimately, incorporating sustainability into the underlying principles of a building ensures an increased quality of life for clients, residents and future generations. Architect Alexis Karolides notes that fellow architects do not lead the sustainability movement and are instead hardwired, through relentless portfolio judgements during university, to disregard their beliefs in favour of efficiency, trends, and client needs. Even so, incorporating sustainability summarises down to common sense, architects will always hold some responsibility to the surrounding environment and consumer lives, and we therefore must remain conscious of the continual impact our design decisions cause, and pride should be derived from creating designs that have a future of stability in mind . In terms of this article, designing with sustainability receives a 3 on every scale. It is high in morals, there is no blame being created or shifted, and there is very little effort needed as the movement towards this new age has already been established and accepted as it should be.