(building-) Shame

We are often called upon to change our behavior: stop buying bullshit, fly less, avoid fast fashion. Sometimes, it is even enforced by the government: buy an electric car, insulate your house, or install a mandatory heat pump, for example. A call for ‘flying less’ however doesn’t translate to flying less or fear of flying, but to flight shame… the call for eating less meat or becoming completely vegetarian leads to meat shame, and so on. If we did it, fine: fly less, eat less meat, etc., but it mainly results in degrees of guilt and shame.

Moreover, this appeal is all individually targeted, a call to each individual resident of this country. Very little is centrally regulated; all options are left open, especially for businesses. Because enforcing would be inconvenient: you have to do it yourself, and otherwise, go sit in a corner and be ashamed.

We all work too. And most of us work more than necessary to simply get by. This results in more money to spend on more shameful things. Thus, ‘work shame’ also arises. “You work too much and thus cause more damage.” To live at the same standard of living as in the 1950s, you only need to work 11 hours a week… so 25 hours of shame! The government, however, wants no one to work part-time and even that you take two jobs if necessary; otherwise, you should be ashamed again. That’s schizophrenic. No wonder many people become mentally entangled.

Of course, you could just work less, earn less, and stay home; that would help. But what about your house? Is the house then shame-free? That depends. If you occupy more than the European average square meters per person, you might start feeling ashamed. Say, above 37 m² per person. But there are people who build a villa, supposedly sustainable, but of 300 m² (150 m² per person). Then you should really be ashamed. Squandering square meters and calling it sustainable (if it even is, which it isn’t, see [1]).

This naturally applies to the residents/owners/clients of that house, but what about the professionals: the builder/designer/contractor/financier? Should you as a professional cooperate in larger constructions, for example?

Should you cooperate in building a large villa? Because a 300 m² villa is more as three times too large for fair housing, three times the impact. Should you then feel ashamed as an architect for being proud of it, or as a project developer working for the ‘higher’ segment? Yes, you should feel ashamed. Especially if you also stack those oversized villas in 20-story towers or higher, increasing the impact per square meter.[2] Shameless. And also making a lot of money from it, causing more damage…

Or should you, as a professional who participated in building an oversized villa but using mostly biobased material, reason away the shame? You could argue that a three times larger biobased house also has three times the CO2 storage…? (Spoiler: nonsense of course, it takes three times the material not available to others, making the CO2 storage the same, but the material burden per person much smaller).

But it goes even further: should you as a professional participate in building below sea level, for example? Because you are building for demolition, so to speak. Should you not honor your engineer’s oath and keep your integrity? Informally, I know some companies no longer develop and build below sea level outside urban areas. But those are exceptions; the rest should be ashamed. In other words, construction shame, and it comes in many variants.

In summary, you should be ashamed if you:

  1. Build below sea level and let future generations deal with the consequences.
  2. cooperate in housing construction larger than 37 m² per person.
  3. Do not build and optimize with solar orientation.[3]
  4. Do not build maximally biobased.
  5. Build on piles! [4].
  6. Build in new development areas instead of expanding existing built environment (do build along existing infrastructure* (the Belgian variant).
  7. Build six-lane roads instead of express bus lines and international train connections.
  8. Demolish and build new instead of renovating.
  9. Build higher than four stories, making it uninhabitable without an elevator (if the power goes out [5]).
  10. Lobby for a more favorable valuation of your product or material when you know it is not justified…[6]

But we do our best. We wouldn’t need to be ashamed if we regulated it decently, centrally, and nationally, instead of leaving everything half-baked and all options open, burdening everyone individually with a mental dilemma. But that it will be centrally regulated does not seem likely for now, with a majority that knows nothing or wants to know nothing. So, go reflect on your sins this summer at the beach.


* new infrastructure doubles more or less the buildings impact per m2.


[1] https://www.ronaldrovers.com/transgressive-projects-the-architect-33/

[2] https://www.ronaldrovers.com/how-to-avoid-highrise-buildings/

[3] https://www.ronaldrovers.com/right-for-sun-a-guaranteed-free-solar-access-window/

[4] https://www.linkedin.com/posts/roversronald_bullshit-products-2nd-season-episodes-11-activity-7126149426309406720-AOvq

[5] https://www.ronaldrovers.com/high-rise-again-if-it-needs-an-elevator-dont-build-it/

[6] https://www.ronaldrovers.com/building-evaluation-should-change/

Author: ronald rovers