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Andrew Wright searching for true sustainability

Hardly has the term 'sustainability'entered the public vocabulary than it has become the convention to dismiss it as a 'buzzword'.While it is true that few people have much understanding about sustainability, due to the glaring lack of public education through mainstream media channels such as TV, the prevalent tone of irony adopted by the cognoscenti in speaking of the concept is a very easy way of brushing the issue under the carpet again.

Architect Andrew Wright's response to the lack of clarity and precision in the sustainability debate has been the pursuit of a truly scientific footing on which to develop a sustainable design practice. But the practice of architecture can never be fully scientific; it must engage with an intangible, elusive cultural dimension which allows architecture to play its crucial role of cultural representation and self-identification in society.Whether or not this can be calculated or planned in, or whether it simply has to emerge, remains debatable. For Wright, it seems, this aspect of architecture has been very problematic. In his London School of Economics talk he explained that he 'got stuck' after his first degree, because he 'couldn't see the underlying logic of design'.This led him to 'move away a little', and work as a 'design aide' in various design-orientated engineering practices. This experience showed him the way towards a 'very clear inherent logic' founded in the physical characteristics of design, and in fluid dynamics.

Wright has no doubts about the role of the computer as the saviour of design, allowing as it does the modelling and prediction of the fluid flows and dynamics of space which could never be pinned down and fully understood before.'Science, technology and information mean we can now capture it and take it into design', he explains, 'giving it a very strong logic', and resulting in 'a quite particular form of architecture, which can be surprising too'.

Much of Wright's work, launched into the public eye with his victory in the Holy Island retreat competition, has been driven by examining the science of water flow.The Will Adams Ecology Centre in Kent is exemplary in this respect. In the Holy Island project, developed in collaboration with Battle McCarthy, the aim was to 'match and blend'the social side - or 'ephemeral sciences'- with the scientific, ecological and natural side. While it is indisputable that social and cultural life grows out of, and is determined by, ecological and climatic conditions, Wright's thoroughgoing analysis and design response to the latter does not seem, from his own presentation, to be matched by insight and imagination in relation to the former.His community regeneration projects in the north of England highlight the fundamental need for integration of physical infrastructure, but the issues involved in rebuilding a sophisticated cultural superstructure on sustainable foundations hardly enter the discussion.

Andrew Wright was speaking at the London School of Economics on Sustainable Urban Design vital statistics Between 1991 and 1997 the population of Greater London grew by 232,400 while the population of Merseyside fell by 36,000.

Overall, the populations of conurbations excluding London fell by 41,800.For every five people who moved out of conurbations between 1991 and 1997, four moved in.

The main public concern about the urban environment is traffic congestion, according to government research. Of the respondents, 27 per cent said congestion was the most serious issue, 25 per cent said fouling by dogs and 24 per cent said litter and rubbish.

In England 58,000ha of brownfield land, an area roughly the size of the West Midlands, is either derelict, vacant or available for redevelopment.

People living in cities are 46 per cent more likely to experience burglary than people living in rural areas.

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