It is widely acknowledged that the mantra of sustainability has triggered a fundamental
reversal in the core of design practice: If the original purpose of architecture was
to protect humans from the destructive actions of nature, today it should protect
nature from the damaging actions of humans. But sustainable design is far from being
a coherent body of fully totalized ideas: it has a broad spectrum of disputing interpretations
that oscillate between the deterministic models of energy control and technological
efficiencies, and the moralistic and romantic approaches that attempt to see in nature
and natural processes a fundamental way to de-escalate the global urban footprint
and its associated patterns of consumption.However, mainstream green design has been evolving by progressively absorbing the
narrative of deep ecology. Nature has been being integrated into architecture literally,
by inserting vegetation onto buildings; digitally, by bringing environmental data
into the design process (climate records, wind streams, sun rotation and air flows
are computed, modelled and effectually shape architectures), and transcendentally,
by claiming that sustainable architecture nurtures “the existing and evolving connections
between spiritual and material consciousness.” The acknowledgement of the inexorable
affiliation between architecture and the environment is, of course, not exactly new.
What is distinctive today is the reification of the role of nature in architecture
as an ideological stance, now totally intertwined with state-of-art data processing
and the market-driven tools brought by Natural Capitalism.This paper will examine emblematic “green” buildings produced by leading architects
such as Pelli Clarke Pelli, William McDonough, Stefano Boeri, Norman Foster and BIG
in the light of Tim Morton’s, Slavoj Zizek and Bruno Latour’s critique of nature.
It will illustrate how, despite being able to successfully forge new creative freedoms
by exploring hybridizations between the domains of design and science, sustainability’s
self-righteous “naturalistic” narrative is enabling a vision of the architect as an
“expert manager” focused on producing projects of ecologic “beautification” while
assumed to be “saving the world,” effectively depoliticizing the architectural practice.
Nevertheless, these examples attest that there is a vast and fertile field of ideas
to be explored and in this regard it is important to underline that we are still in
the embryonic outset of the engagement of architecture with sustainability.