5 Points for a Sustainable Urban Architecture

Continuing on my Cobusier riff, the post here is a summary of my presentation at DCWeek

There’s a long tradition of manifestos in modern architecture, of calls to arms to rally round some ideology of one sort or another. (There’s a great anthology of them, Programs and Manifestos on 20th Century Architecture by Ulrich Conrads.) Le Corbusier’s 5 Points made a particularly pithy manifesto. Easy to memorize, each followed from and was dependent on the others, and together and separately they constituted an overturning, a reversal, of traditional architecture/construction with the goal of ushering in the irrefutably Modern Era. In the end, though it seems to have ended up all about style and suburbia...which was so not the point.

I think it’s time for a new manifesto, but this time a pragmatic, rather than ideological, overturning of both recent architectural obsessions and rote tradition. We need 5 new points that bring the issues of building into the landscape and city: No building is alone. The future is transdisciplinary. So with apologies to Le Corbusier and all the ranting and raving modernists who came before me, here we go:

5 New Points for Sustainable Urban Architecture:

1 Complete Streets. Just got back from Portland, and this is a shot of one of their wonderful complete streets…H Street will one day look like this. The street is the key to the city.

2 Productive density. It’s that perfect mix of 7-up units per acre, mixed use, and physical design that make such liveliness not just possible, but probable.

3 Green Roofs, which are quite like Corbusier’s original roof gardens. Their benefits are too numerous t
o count...improved water quality, habitat, heat island mitigation, insulation, and let’s not forget pure biophilian beauty. But why stop at the roof? The new frontier is green walls, which actually leads us to:

4 Responsive Facades. The cladding of a building should telegraph its orientation. in this case of this building, passive and active systems combine such that the element doing the passive shading is happily collecting all that solar energy. Architectural elegance: high performance with a frugality of material.

5 Alternative Energies…plural, energies. Energy, like all sustainable practices, is highly situational and context dependent…an architectural truth we’ve done a great job of forgetting in the last century and a half.

Under my new 5 points, every design needs to begin with the fundamental question: what can this building do with energy and the environment because of what it is and where it is.

So why is all this so important? Le Corbusier claimed that building was at the root of all social unrest in the 1st quarter of the 20th century. And he was correct then as now. Building is the key to the entire sustainability problematic: where we build, what we build, how we build...and for whom. We’ve heard this before; we can’t say we weren’t warned...

“Society is filled
with a violent desire for something which it may obtain or may not. Everything lies in that: everything depends on the effort made and the attention paid to these alarming symptoms. Architecture or Revolution. Revolution can be avoided.”

Le Corbusier, Towards an Architecture, 1927


Anonymous said...

Poverty is stranger to industry.................................................................

Anonymous said...

It takes all kinds to make a world.............................................................

JZ said...

Can we add a sixth?: Adaptive Reuse. The embodied energy in a building reused, far outweighs any technological solution in new construction....
Oh, and I recommend a seventh: Permacultural projects/sites. We need to begin the transformation from AGRIcultural to HORTIcultural strategies. Urban gardening will give us better air quality, macrobiotic dietary rhythms and help us reduce a huge carbon footprint allocated to the delivery of our sustenance.