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Why we want to expand thinking about sustainability to include Humanity and the Planet

BY PETER BUCHANAN

Some fine architecture is currently being built, and even more of it is now the product of great technical expertise. But in these pluralist times confusion also reigns: much negligible work is not only being erected but also applauded as significant. Sustainability is recognised as a pressing issue, leading to ever-more sophisticated individual ‘green’ buildings; yet these are insufficient in number and the approach too narrow to deliver true sustainability.

Perhaps worse, sustainability remains an add-on rather than at the core of nearly all architectural education. Also, although most architects are increasingly sensitive to urban issues, much architecture still fails to aggregate into satisfactory urban fabric, creating streets as social places with a distinct sense of place, let alone encouraging the vibrant community life known to be important to psycho-social development.

These problems precisely mirror weaknesses in architectural education, which has too often fragmented into studios and lecture courses in which tutors explore personal interests; even if individually excellent, they collectively fail to provide the overview that helps students digest many different areas of concern. This is compounded by architectural theory courses that neglect many issues that should be central to architecture today.

These are a few key aspects of the background that shaped the lecture series on Humanity and Planet, which takes places in the Critical Practice module in the Inter-Practice Year. Covering a wide range of fields and contemporary modes of thought, it provides a rigorous integrative framework to both guide students in drawing together knowledge from diverse fields, as well as to highlight crucial areas they may be overlooking. It will also throw light on the current conditions and challenges by setting these within a clarifying historical context.

It will thus provide the urgently needed and sorely missing critical leverage to make informed and discerning judgements about architecture and theory and the relevance of these to our times and the wider world. It will provide deep insight into the very purposes of architecture, necessary to recover from the reductionism of modern thought, leading to powerfully useful new understandings of architecture and the processes of creating it.

In short, it will provide the framework for a much more complete and deeper understanding of architecture, urbanism and sustainability adequate to the challenges of our times, not least because giving due attention to psycho-cultural factors as well as such objective ones as function, ecology, economy and financing.