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'It's the procrastination and cynical posturing that's unsustainable'

Despite great progress, development work is still some way off a sustainability tipping point, says Paul Hyett

‘Around the year 2000, an urban baby’s birth will tip the balance: the majority of the world’s population will live in cities. It has become imperative for us to deliver a more ecologically responsible architecture.’

So began my first AJ column in January 1995. Since then, there has been a massive public awakening to this agenda. With the Independent seemingly leading the media charge, barely a week now passes without front-page coverage of the sustainability issue.

BedZED, BREEAM and LEED; corporate manifestos; the Carbon Trust (for which I chaired a four-year £6 million research programme); the RIBA’s success in making the ecological agenda mandatory for all institute-approved education courses worldwide; dedicated awards; new codes and regulations – since that article in 1995 progress has been considerable. Schools, such as Nottingham University, lead the way in research and practitioners, such as Ken Yeang, are exploring new forms of architectural expression for sustainable buildings.

But we have yet to reach the tipping point in embracing necessary change. The stark truth is that the development world – whether public or private – is still not delivering on sustainability. Many construction and development companies deserve credit for their progress, but until a truly enlightened public insists on ecologically responsible architecture, real progress will remain elusive.

Two initiatives offer hope. First, the RIBA has determined that sustainability must be a factor in its entire awards programme. Sustainable architecture is, of course, not necessarily good architecture, but from here on architecture cannot be good unless it is also sustainable. Second is Paul Morrell’s appointment to the new post of government chief construction advisor (pictured).

In this capacity, and as head of the Low Carbon Construction Review, Morrell has the intelligence, experience and determination to cut through the cynical posturing and bloody-minded procrastination that has so impeded progress on the sustainability agenda.

Paul Hyett is a principal at HKS Architects, a former president of the RIBA and AJ practice columnist from 1995 to 2002

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