MOST ABSURD IN THE QUEST FOR THE HOLY GREEN GRAIL IS THE 'EXEMPLAR' PROJECT
The AJ's former technical editor, Austin Williams, held the view that environmental evangelism feeds off exaggeration and ignorance and that architecture should be freed from such prejudice and cant. It was an unfashionable stance, and it didn't win the AJ many friends. But it did at least question the orthodoxy that buildings with exemplary green credentials were implicitly beyond reproach. That to raise questions about their purpose or planning or precedent or proportion was to 'miss the point'.
A sub-standard building with impeccable environmental credentials may be marginally more desirable than its energy-guzzling counterpart. But it is still inexcusable. To build is inherently extravagant. The most efficient way for architects to fight waste is to ensure buildings are replaced or substantially rebuilt as rarely as possible; to aspire to a Vitruvian architecture which is fit for purpose, structurally sound, and likely to command sufficient respect or affection to ensure a long and happy life. The most absurd manifestation of the quest for the holy green grail is the 'exemplar' project; the building which justifies its existence on the basis that it represents the cutting edge of sustainable design. By definition, it is unable to lay claim to its raison d'être for any length of time. It is paradoxically a paean to sustainability with premature obsolescence as a key component of the brief.
There is evidence that the urry of green one-upmanship is subsiding. The AJ's sustainability microsite which launches today (see www. ajplus. co. uk/sustainability and article on p39) charts a profession which is less fixated on designing the ultimate green building, than with challenging the systems which keep practice and design in a pre-sustainability age.
Green pioneers are staking their claim to be mainstream. They will only succeed if they can marry sustainability with the time-honoured principles of commodity, firmness and delight.