Bye Bye Modernity, and farewell Modernism

04Nov12

By Peter Buchanan @ the architectural review

INTEGRATING ‘EXTERNALITIES’ INTO ARCHITECTURAL THINKING


Total life-cycle costing, a key discipline in sustainable design, requires that we understand efficiency and ecological impacts in a very different way to modernity. This dismissed much of its negative impacts (particularly those of industry and corporations) as mere externalities or collateral damage.

Now we understand that what is critical is not the efficiency, lightness and strength of a material or component when in place: it is the total amount of material extracted from the Earth and the disruption caused by this, as well as the energy and pollution from transport and manufacture, and then the costs and impacts of eventual recycling or return to the Earth. Thus what were once seen as highly efficient high-tech materials or components are now seen to be very inefficient − indeed, with building, it is almost the rule that the more efficient the product when in place, the less efficient it is in process terms. For real efficiency, as the concept is now understood, nothing can beat mud and thatch, although Walter Segal’s timber self-build system scores highly as do traditional tropical construction techniques in materials, such as bamboo and palm-frond matting − which might be lightweight but are natural, local and renewable.

Design for sustainability will thus inevitably be centred on the shaping of processes, such as flows of material and energy, as much as on the eventual products. This requires vastly expanding the temporal and spatial range of the designers’ concerns to include the total life-cycle costs mentioned above, which would typically span decades, and the global impacts of, say, using a material in short supply, which might have profound consequences on the other side of the planet.

What are now dismissed as mere externalities for others, usually the taxpayers, to deal with, must now all be factored into the design process. Miniaturisation and ephemerality can be very destructive, as evidenced by the horrendous and too little publicised consequences of mining for rare earth metals used in computers, cell phones (of which Americans discard 130 million a year) and other electronic equipment, such as that used in monitoring and adjusting conditions within buildings.

All this will profoundly influence the design and making of architecture. And just as green design has already elevated the status of the services engineer as a key creative member of the design team, so too will it lead to the inclusion, as another key creative discipline, of production engineers, who are devising more efficient and benign ways of manufacturing materials and components.

Read the full article here

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