15 October 2010

Achieving the balance...

CAFOD Social area

In a period where a new sustainable architecture is beginning to emerge, a fundamental decision needs to be made on the relationship between buildings and their occupiers. Should users adapt their behaviour to respond to a building sacrificing comfort for the sake of the planet, or should architects be designing to reflect the way we are accustomed to live in our modern society regardless of the energy consumed and the C02 omitted?

Alternatively, is there a third way that utilises the skills of a range of professionals to achieve a balance, to be sustainable without lowering our standards of living – is this the new sustainable architecture we talk of at Black?

Technology provides us with an opportunity to make step changes to reduce our energy consumption regardless of how it is generated, but we fill the void created with new consumables, wastefully condition the empty space, or ultimately get somebody else to offset the problem! It’s being used to improve our standard of living, rather than offering the savings that can, and need, to be divided globally.

CAFOD officespace
 A comment raised at the end of a recent lecture given by Professor Doug King on the subject of Engineering UK Buildings for Zero Carbon, asked the ‘standard' developing world impact question about who pays for the advances and inevitable global warming potential caused by others. It wasn’t a lecture about economics, but it needs to be addressed by the profession. The answer given on the night was based upon a personal optimism in humankind. In reality it will require political will to create the more equal society required to resolve our problems. The Spirit Level - Why Equality is Better for Everyone, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett is a thought provoking read that fellow optimists should debate to seek solutions that unlock our economic problems.

The contrast of slum and luxury in Mumbai

Our recent building for the charity CAFOD seeks to bridge this equality divide - economically, socially and environmentally. The occupants have to work with their building and make some sacrifices, but this doesn’t reduce the quality of their working life, or more importantly of those that the charity serves. In fact this humble building provides greater social space than its more illustrious and highly funded peers. Is this the level we should be targeting as a profession?

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