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Rio+20 - the UN conference for sustainable development

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Despite Rio+20, sustainable design is gaining traction in the UK, says Hattie Hartman

I’m currently in Rio, a city I have visited periodically for many years. Most of the action for Rio+20, the UN conference for sustainable development, is taking place about an hour from the centre city, so the Copacabana beachfront is eerily calm, except for a rather extraordinary multi-media exhibition called Humanidade 2012. Constructed in a spectacular location at the end of the bay over the early 20th century Copacabana fort – it is built entirely with temporary materials.

Queues of all ages lined the side street for entry, and I was very grateful for a press pass. Lots of impressive statistics on real-time panels bring home the harsh reality of today’s world. Humanidade 2012 culminates with a model of Calatrava’s Museum of Tomorrow, due to complete in 2014. This will be Rio’s first encounter with starchitecture.

On a more optimistic note, BioRegional’s Pooran Desai reports his impressions of Rio+20, which run contrary to the rather dispiriting global media coverage. Dialogue pushes the agenda forward, even if the lack of any targets in the global framework agreement render it frustratingly hollow.

Closer to home, this year’s RIBA Awards are also encouraging. If they are an accurate barometer, 2012 represents a step-change in the UK green building landscape. Over the four years that I’ve been tracking the awards, this is the first year where there are more than a handful of green buildings. I’ve reviewed the lot and highlighted my favourites in this month’s Footprint feature. My list is not exhaustive, so don’t be disappointed if your project is not featured.

In this month’s Footprint column, Jeremy Till explains his recent work on scarcity and challenges the premises of a narrow technical approach to sustainable design. His accuses the profession of being ‘addicted to the idea that adding more and more shiny artefacts to the world [is] the supreme act of the architect.’

Rio+20, the green RIBA award winners, and Till’s critique all suggest that a fresh approach to architectural design is needed to meet today’s challenges. Deborah Saunt of DSDHA, chair of the RIBA Awards Group, likens the current dilemma to cargo pants. When you first see them, you say ‘What’s that? But pretty soon, you’re wearing them too.’ Likewise for green design.

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