A common grievance among architects, in particular, is that sustainable building has become the domain of technical experts who conceive of buildings as power plants rather than places where people live and work. This tendency is being reinforced by excessive legal requirements that result in buildings which are highly complex, but dysfunctional in actual practice. Furthermore, these requirements run contrary to the principles of ‘good design’.
This is not entirely incorrect. But, those who merely complain implicitly demonstrate their powerlessness. It is therefore encouraging that, in many spheres, there are signs of a counter-movement and buildings are being created that fulfil the criteria of both sustainability and good design. Here, architecture is key. First comes the design concept and then, subordinate to it, the technical planning. Space and the designed structure, rather than pipes and equipment, are the most important means of ensuring energy efficiency in these buildings. Moreover, they often display a new simplicity that is not based on complicated construction as minimalism used to be, but rather on the genuine endeavour to achieve more with less.
In the current issue of DETAIL Green, we present a series of buildings that illustrate this economy of means. We begin with the houses at Solar Decathlon 2014, which were not simply conceived as plus-energy, single-family homes as in the preceding competitions, but as solutions to urgent social and urban-planning problems in the home countries of their designers. We continue with the discussion about sufficiency in building, whereby architects can make a name for themselves as pioneers of a new ‘less is more’ approach. The issue also features a research project in Nyborg in Denmark that tackled questions of sustainability above and beyond pure efficiency. In the case of new buildings in London, Hamburg and Dehlingen, which are looked at in this issue, planning was not primarily aimed at technical innovations, but at the skilful combination of tried-and-tested solutions.
In order to avoid any misunderstandings, it should be noted that these buildings are often complex – especially in spatial terms – and have yet to prove their viability. What’s more, the idea is not to renounce all the technical achievements of the past few years. The aim is to help bring about a reappraisal of a vital resource that not even masses of technical equipment can adequately substitute: namely, human intelligence. It is, and will remain, an indispensable component of sustainable building design – irrespective of high-tech materials and simulation programs. (Jakob Schoof)