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    At the Crossroads of Sustainability: The Natural Recompositioning of Architecture


    UCL Press

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        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.

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        Most cited references 7

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              Author and article information

              DARQ – Departamento de Arquitecutura – Universidade de Coimbra
              UCL Press
              October 2018
              : 14
              : 2
              Copyright © 2018 The Author(s)

              This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

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