Sustainable Place

Article excerpt

Sustainable Place, Christine Phillips, Chichester, Wiley-Academy, 2003, 218 pp., £24.95 (p/b)

In Sustainable Place Christine Phillips explores the contribution of the landscape and architecture professions to sustainable development through the use of place-related design strategies and master planning. The focus is on how these professions can work with, rather than against, the physical conditions and natural resources of a place to achieve favourable human thermal comfort and turn problems brought about by climate change to environmental advantage. The author's particular plea to these professions is for an aesthetic interest that is directed towards the enhancement of environment and design that is energy efficient and effective.

The Preface, Introduction and Chapter 1 position the argument within the Rio Earth Summit Agreement and the Kyoto Climate Treaty, highlighting the ambiguity around the flimsy consensus on sustainable development. The author's conviction is that our cities are formed by political and economic systems that are out of harmony with the environmental and social aspects of 'city' life. Chapter 2 therefore develops this thesis with a general overview of how our marketbased, technological solutions presume that consumerism and commodification equate to progress. The author argues that conceptions of what constitutes 'good' city design and form are in urgent need of radical critical reform if the impetus towards energy efficiency provided by the climate change agreements is to be applied successfully to the expanding developing countries of the world.

Chapters 3 and 4 develop an assessment framework for the state of sustainability of a place. Sustainability is about treasuring and appreciating the qualities of light, spaces, clean air, thermal comfort, psychological comfort and pleasure in space and ease of function. The landscape and architecture quality and condition are to be assessed on a number of sustainability indicators that treat the physical conditions, functional needs, institutional requirements and cultural identity as interconnected. A four-stage process of 'place' assessment is proposed starting with Observation, then Indicator Assessment, Capability Assessment and finally Determining what action (if any) to take.

Chapters 5 and 6 demonstrate the application of the first three stages to a sustainability assessment of San Gimignano in Italy and Ludlow in England. Both these case studies are geographically contained, walled, medieval hilltop towns surrounded by rural hinterlands. Strong governmental regulations have served to ensure that adaptation to modern development pressures is slow and incremental. The author presents these towns as sustainable places which she uses to test her hypothesis that in a place the quality and condition of the landscape and architecture are indicative of the state of sustainability. The rigour and quality of the assessment is commendable, bringing to light the essentially local and human response to problems faced through historically tried and tested solutions. …