chapter  10
23 Pages

Shifting agendas

WithRaymond J. Cole & Amy Oliver

Building design involves the participation, interaction and coordination of a wide range of professions and trades, within a multitude of regulatory agencies and jurisdictions, and typically within demanding time and cost constraints (Cole, 2005a). Building design priorities as such do not exist in a vacuum, but are shaped by the prevailing paradigm and value system of the societal and cultural context within which they emerge (Du Plessis, 2011; King, 2004; Rapoport, 1969). Similarly, the technologies deployed by society reflect its culture, its worldview, and how it understands and engages natural systems (Mang, 2012). The “worldview” held by a society operates silently to “channel attention, filter information,

categorize experience, anchor interpretation, orient learning, establish moods, secrete norms, and legitimates narratives, ideologies, and power structures.” (Gladwin et al., 1997, p. 245). Worldviews have, historically, embodied different notions of the relationship of humans to the natural world and vary markedly across cultures. They have also taken centuries to mature and become manifest in the shaping of human settlement and building practices. Western societies remain entrapped in the dominant Cartesian Newtonian mechanistic worldview that emerged in themid-seventeenth centurywherein nature was still largely understood andmanaged by reducing it to its parts. This expansionist worldview places human enterprise dominant over and essentially independent of nature and considers that through technology and science, biophysical limits can be exceeded (Bazerman et al., 1997; Capra, 1996; du Plessis, 2012; Rees, 1999). Within this overarching value frame, the current ways and extent that environmental issues are emphasized in building design is further influenced by immediate societal concerns, such as in the aftermath of significant events like social insecurity or economic instability. Indeed, a widely held position is that until natural disasters resulting from environmental instability set in, ecological issues will be compromised in the political realm by economic, social and military priorities (Ingersoll, 1991). More directly, environmental priorities in design are influenced by the types of tools and methods deployed in practice. Through time, norms and conventions develop within the building industry that all partici-

pants adhere to within their respective realms of responsibility, and, when a new agenda emerges, these norms and conventions are invariably challenged. Here, building environmental assessment methods have been enormously successful in forging a “common language” for various stakeholders and providing a common measure of successful green performance. However, although the urgency to address climate change and environmental degradation require fundamental changes to current building design, practice, new ideas and requirements are most often assimilated within the existing approaches (and can be referred to as creating ‘incremental change’). Fundamental shifts or ‘quantum changes’, cannot be readily or quickly assimilated within the design and production of buildings1. Bernard Tschumi suggests that “architectural and philosophical concepts do not disappear overnight… ruptures always occur within an old fabric which is constantly

dismantled and dislocated in such a way that its ruptures lead to new concepts or structures” (Tschumi, 1988, p. 35). This implies that environmental theories and strategies will only be assimilated partially and selectively within an existing design context, and only seldom result in a complete paradigm shift.