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Green Rethink – A global search for green architect yielded only 60 practices

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Endorsement of the Green Rethink by many deep greens validates the AJ’s aspiration to mainstream green design, says Hattie Hartman

‘I’m a GoogleEarth nerd’, said Terry Farrell, in his opening remarks at the AJ’s inaugural Green Rethink conference last month. He then flashed up two of the most compelling images of the day: Google Earth aerials of two Maggie’s Centres. Rogers Stirk Harbour Stirling Prize-winning Maggie’s at Charing Cross Hospital is tightly woven into Hammersmith’s urban fabric while Frank Gehry’s at Ninewells Hospital on the outskirts of Dundee is surrounded by acres of parking. 

Farrell accused both the architectural profession and its press as guilty of navel-gazing as we scrutinise the minute details of the Maggie’s while ignoring the planning challenges of the behemoth hospitals next door. Farrell reminded us that responding to today’s environmental imperative means looking beyond the performance of individual buildings to the urban scale. Calling for a new approach to the challenges of twenty-first century cities, he said planners must work with and enhance natural forces – ‘like growing beans in a greenhouse.’

On another note, Atelier Ten’s Patrick Bellew illustrated the frequent sidelining of sustainable design with a three-bubble diagram depicting a snapshot of the profession.  In Bellew’s view, some ten per cent of the profession are so-called ‘green leaders,’ another ten per cent are ‘not very interested’, while the vast majority are ‘interested in being green as long as it doesn’t affect the architecture too much.’ 

As our AJ team planned the content for the  Green Rethink, we asked ourselves repeatedly who our target audience was.  While our ambition was to reach Bellew’s vast majority, I harboured a doubt about the potential cynicism of the profession’s green leaders towards yet another sustainable design conference. Resounding support for the Green Rethink from a broad spectrum green leaders has been an unanticipated and heartening outcome.

Endorsement from the deep greens helps validate the Green Rethink’s aspiration to mainstream green design. Likewise the impressive architectural quality of the projects presented, from the first glimpses of O’Donnell Twomey’s BREEAM Outstanding Student Centre for the LSE to Architects Associes’ Passivhaus recent office building in Brussels, is proof that green design can also be good design.

Cloud 9 Media –TIC

But it was Cloud 9’s Enric Ruiz-Geli, currently a tutor at the Architectural Association, who stole the show.  After presenting Barcelona’s  Media-TIC (World Architecture Festival  Building of the Year in 2011) with its nitrogen fog-filled ETFE cushions, Ruiz-Geli described his recent search for green architects to refer to the mayor of San Antonio, Texas. In contrast with the UK government, San Antonio has opted against nuclear power and in favour of greening its built environment according to Jeremy Rifkin’s Third Industrial Revolution (AJ  09.02.12). Ruiz-Guell’s global search resulted in only sixty green practices.  Is your practice one of them? 

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