Dimensions of Sustainability: Architecture Form, Technology, Environment, Culture

Dimensions of Sustainability: Architecture Form, Technology, Environment, Culture

Dimensions of Sustainability: Architecture Form, Technology, Environment, Culture

Dimensions of Sustainability: Architecture Form, Technology, Environment, Culture


This summary of presentations at a symposium, held at MIT, examines a holistic view on environmentalism, focusing on cultural and social levels as well as technical issues to broaden the debate on sustainable architecture.


Nazli Choucri

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Despite differences in definitions, perspectives and priorities, sustainability remains a critical challenge for everyone. In general, the problem is this: traditional patterns of industrial and economic activities are no longer viable, but alternative models are not yet developed. The historical trajectory of the industrial West cannot serve as a model for the development of the industrializing countries, but it cannot be discarded entirely. Ecological systems are severely strained by the cumulative effects of past industrialization and can scarcely

support added strains due to future patterns of growth, but there are major uncertainties about what must be done and how. In short, the international community as a whole is involved in a global search for new modes of development, new designs for social interaction, and new technologies for meeting evolving needs, wants, and demands.

The common dilemma for us all is how best to manage the interconnections between ecological conditions and balances, on the one hand, and social needs and priorities, on the other. This book is a major contribution to new thinking on the built environment. For the rich, the problem is how to maintain reasonable consumption patterns and standard of living while reducing emissions and environmental degradation. For the poor, the problem is how to meet basic needs, transcend conditions of marginality, and improve the level of economic well being—all without creating the pollution that is so prevalent in industrial societies. Addressing this challenge by necessity means developing better ways of managing matters of shelter, infrastructure and built spaces, as well as improving modes of transforming natural habitats in forms consistent with social goals, priorities and purposes. The various conceptions of sustainable development—well over 50 at the last count—are rooted in the Brundtland Commission report defining the form of development as one of meeting the needs of future generations without foreclosing options for the future. This view serves a the essential starting point, to be sure, but it is hardly sufficient as an analytical guide or as a policy directive. Indeed, in many parts of the world the pressing priorities are shaped by the dual imperatives of survival and endurance.

Strategies for managing the built environment touch upon all the key dimensions of sustainability at all levels and in all contexts. These include: ecological balance (preserving the resilience of natural environments and balances); economic performance (enabling markets for generating production and consumption patterns); institutional capacity (meeting the organizational needs of private entities and firms and public agencies); and viable governance (ensuring effective policy, regulation, and accountability).

This book illustrates how the joint impact of innovation, adaptation, and evolution may yield creative and effective response strategies. It also helps show how such strategies may facilitate transitions toward sustainability. Written for specialists, this book has important messages for generalists. Targeted at professional architects and practitioners, it is also of relevance to planners in broader contexts. Addressing innovations in the field of architecture, it represents a concerned effort to meet the challenges of sustainability head-on in a domain that affects us all, namely the built environment. In short, this book will be of great interest to individuals and institutions responsible for implementing new strategies toward sustainability—everywhere, and at all levels.

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