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World needs more, not less, audacious thinking

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Kate Macintosh suggests that she is afraid that members of Audacity. org are thinking for themselves (AJ 13.07.00). That Macintosh provides her own definition of sustainability, distinct to that formulated by Professor Peter F Smith on the same letters page, illustrates that rather more thought is required to make sense of contemporary architectural practice.Hence the Building Audacity conference, and the exhibition at the Building Centre which continues to the end of July. The issues we discussed were as follows:

Earth has no static carrying capacity because technological development makes population growth and an improved quality of life possible. Human society is uniquely able to turn mere materials or natural forces into useful resources.

Achieving greater performance from fewer materials with low or reusable embodied energy is necessary in design. This is compatible with the effort to realise easy construction with low maintenance.

Otherwise we continue to waste time on laborious work as though individuals were a renewable resource.

Architects and engineers need building physics and structural analysis to inform the design decisions we make. If we do not develop abstract principles derived from the scientific study of nature we merely adopt an aesthetic based on naturalistic metaphors.

Business has moved from considerations of profitability and investment to the confusing situation where the ethics of economic, environmental and social capital are talked about as if we all had commercial influence. This mystifies the process of financial decision-making without changing the reality of ownership and control.

An environmental duty of care in any code of conduct or as a legal liability is unworkable. We can never act with certainty, experiment and unforeseen consequences are necessary aspects of life, not credible cases of negligence.

Sustainability knowledge is becoming mandatory for obtaining a professional qualification, alongside a reliance on public consultation about what sustainable development means. No useful or accountable conclusions can be based on such nebulous questions.

Experts need to take responsibility for their own ideas rather than depend on those they are supposed to advise.

We have begun to reach conclusions about sustainability, but these ideas need to be developed. Macintosh only offers us platitudes in place of robust thought. We shall continue to do our own thinking to make sense of professional practice, and wish to thank the speakers, delegates, sponsors and exhibitors for Building Audacity.

Ian Abley, Audacity, London E9

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