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Back to basics for sustainability

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The concept of sustainable development was established by 'Our Common Future', the 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland, and furthered by the 1992 Rio Declaration. It was defined as 'development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'. Both reports emphasised the inter-relationship between socio-economic and physical development.

It would seem therefore that architectural adaptation of sustainability (aj 5.2.98) starts with the building function; in this case, one that will house the education of children now to become knowledgeable and responsible adults of the future. Buildings can be demonstrations of this ethos, but, as yet, most buildings are not!

Such matters as efficient use of space, orientation, insulation and ventilation consumption of fuel and power and consequent emissions, flexibility and 'touching the ground lightly' then all become inter-relatedly and integrally relevant - inclusive of energy consumption and toxicity of materials production and their transportation.

The future, however, is characteristically changeable and likely to be more hazardous. Global warming and climate change, for example, are expected to increase rainfall and storminess, and extremes of temperature both up and down. There is plenty to allow sustainability to 'create its own architecture' (and contexts for architecture), not only to inform the process by which architecture is produced. Design consideration on behalf of Essex County Council is to be commended; hopefully the result will not be arbitrary 'add-on' architectural appendages and metaphors as simplistic adjustments of the status quo, but open-minded analysis of first principles. The future is now.


Datum International, Marshfield, Nr Chippenham, Wiltshire

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