‘transgressive ‘ projects: the architect 3/3

Last time I wrote about about project development, and how everything was optimized within project borders, but the effects outside the project boundaries were neglected.

But between architect and client, it’s just the same, and even worse, as became evident once again when I attended a presentation about a new house some time ago. It was symptomatic of how, with good intentions, we often go completely astray.

In this case, the client and architect were quite pleased with what they considered a sustainable result, even referring to the report by the club of Rome to underline the need for sustainability.

Result: The client lived in a wonderful house, spoke about technology as the solution to many problems, and about passersby taking pictures of his home. While the architect didn’t fail to emphasize that beauty was also important, that architecture was an art form, and compared his work to famous architects, but as an improved version. And the audience nodded in agreement.

All of this had, however, resulted in a house for two people of 400 square meters (approximately 4 times the average in the Netherlands!), in a massive pile of concrete and steel and glass, filled with technology. Figures on CO2 or embodied energy or material usage per square meter were not available. That wasn’t considered important because every detail had been meticulously thought out, so it couldn’t get any better. At least, that’s how it was presented.

The intentions are good, and I don’t doubt that. But a beautiful home and all sorts of comforts still take precedence over environmental limits. This leads to a disastrous outcome when you don’t set limits in advance for the quantity and type of materials and indirectly for square meters and energy. And then you try to defend it with all sorts of vague language. Of course, during the process, things change, and decisions have to be made. But if something cannot be done in a sustainable manner, the decision is not to leave it out, but to switch back to the traditional non sustainable approach. For example, the ground floor was originally planned to be half underground, made of rammed earth. That turned out to be challenging and without guarantees, so it had to be made of concrete. Well, the right decision would have been not to build it at all and keep the house entirely above ground, even if it meant using a few pillars.

To make matters worse, there is also a massive pool next to the villa, made in concrete. It could have been a natural pond, designed for with swimming in it.

Numbers for this project were not available, but I estimate that the overall impact is enormous, far above what might still be possible or acceptable per person. The trend sketched by the Club of Rome, that we are heading towards limits, has been confirmed rather than reversed.

Architecture and comfort have once again triumphed over climate, nature, and the environment. The image and feeling take precedence over facts and figures, over physical reality. The unsuspecting and unknowing audience loves it, and passersby stop their bikes to take a photo. Because that’s how we were raised with architecture that knows no limits. And so, we continue to muddle through if we don’t set clear boundaries on what can still be done and what can no longer be done, giving the earth limits of resources and limits of dealing with waste. Therefore, we need to evaluate within the proper system boundaries, not only those of the building (which is normally done, though not even done in this project) but also in terms of all effects and inputs from beyond the property boundaries!

Author: ronald rovers