“If we are to move forward… towards mainstreaming ecological design as an integral part of building for the 21st century, then it is crucial that it is accessible, economic, genuinely environmentally sound, gimmic-free and not stigmatised as a style” – Howard Liddell from ‘Eco-minimalism – the antidote to eco-bling’ RIBA Publications 2008
From governments and politicians down to tradesmen and factory workers we are all made aware of the impending dangers of global warming, climate change and the crazy amounts of other human related side-effects imposed on our planet through our modern-day lifestyles. The problem is that with reasonable panic, comes unreasonable thinking. In the construction industry, eco-bling is preached ‘as a means to an end’ and seems more a quasi-solution based on reactionary thought and very little practice. Today, sustainability has become another one of those dreaded buzz words and as it gains momentum, most people perceive it as a new “trend” and not a way of living. Concepts of green architecture today are peppered with greenwashing and failed attempts at providing quality in sustainability. People are rushing to the recycling bins and fixing their outdated buildings, with green technology badges such as solar panels and micro wind turbines, but fail to understand sustainability in the broader context and often fail to implement a green design approach that works. The same high-end green technology solutions being sold to us as antidotes to climate change might not be as green as they first appear.
Recently, I came upon Howard Lidell’s – brilliantly named- ‘Eco-minimalism – the antidote to eco-bling’ (2008). After reading this, you realise that there is a more realistic and cost-effective approach to going ‘green’ which simply follows basic concepts of ‘eco-minimalism’ – a good design approach that is tied to ecological building design through careful selection of materials, building orientation, environmental design and specification. Eco-minimalism is about making a building react to its environment in ‘passive’ ways rather than ‘active’ solutions. Far from reaching the almost high tech levels of ‘PassivHaus’ design, Eco-minimalism aims to dissect these principles even further. For example, slapping a bunch of solar-thermal panels in the roof of a 1950’s bungalow is an ‘active’ way of addressing water and space heating, but it ignores the need for increasing its out-dated insulation or reducing hot water usage in the first place. Both of which can be achieved with low-cost methods of construction (cavity wall insulation & simple water saving measures) . Careful planning and implementation at design stage can almost negate the use of any ‘green-technology’ at all. Basically, any building or design can increase their ‘ eco-credentials’ by concentrating on less obvious strategies such as insulation, draught-proofing and the use of healthy local materials and not ‘Greenwashing’ a design by picking ‘off-the-shelf’ green solutions that may actually cause more harm to the environment than good.
As Architects, builders, planners and designers, we must strive to find the simplest and most cost effective solutions in support of truly ecological, affordable sustainable architecture for everyone.
Other recommended books
Brown, G. Z (2000) Sun, Wind and Light: Architectural Design Strategies, London: John Wiley & Sons
Kwok A & Grondzik W (2011) The Green Studio Handbook: Environmental Strategies for Schematic Design, London: Architectural Press
Lechner, N (2008) Heating, Cooling, Lighting: Sustainable Design Methods for Architects, London: John Wiley & Sons