The key challenges for architecture in the next 18 years are to develop ideas that project a positive vision of the future; reclaim the arrogant ambition of the designer; break from formulaic rules of engagement; and experiment with new technologies and materials. In order to achieve this, architects in particular and society in general need to renounce its all-encompassing obeisance to sustainable development.
In British architecture of 2006, subservience to sustainability indicators and environmental benchmarks is almost total. Architects now proclaim that they are taking all possible measures to minimise their footprint on the natural world. But the point of architects is to create the built environment. Their raison d’etre has always been to maximise their impact on nature. Sustainability confounds future-orientated architecture.
Suggesting that we need to use ‘benign materials’, to design ‘urbane architecture’, to prioritise a ‘precautionary approach’ etc, in order to protect future generations from architecture’s unforeseen detrimental impacts is a miserable commentary on how we see our actions today. It views architectural interventions as inherently damaging rather than potentially creative and sets the criteria for good architecture as that which is ‘harmless’.
I don’t believe that the generation of 2024 will thank us for architectural modesty. The buildings we create may not be appreciated by the next generation - as is the prerogative of every generation – but leaving a legacy of modest architecture will, by definition, be nothing to celebrate.
We need to be confident enough to make mistakes. Only this way will students entering architecture schools in 2024, be set the ambitious challenge to appreciate, reject or improve what we’ve done and move on.
Austin Williams is coauthor of The Macro World of Microcars (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)), and a contributor to Sustaining Architecture in the Anti-Machine Age (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).