These words belong to the rather eccentric professional architect, Jonathan Meades, who has recently lashed out at the proponents of “green” architecture. The going “green” trend has encapsulated almost every walk of life and business in the West. Many people, however, such as Meades are sceptical of the sincerity of this claim and duly have criticized such greenwashing, attacking its pith and substance to be a blatantly shallow excuse for building more and more. In many ways Meades is right. Even though he was speaking in the context of Donald Trump’s latest building plans, his words stand true for any concrete jungle which has been created in any metropolitan city around the world (Clark, 2009).
The modern world is more interconnected, as shopping centres and offices now exist in the virtual, as well as the real, word. On the other hand, one sees instances of crassly commercial builders trying to jump onto the “Ethics” and “Going Green” wagon. One might ask, then, whether contributing to global warming by cutting down trees, disturbing nature and building mile high steel and concrete structures can be, in any way, a “Green phenomenon”?
The truth, as simply stated by Meades, is that if architects and builders are serious about sustainable architecture, then they must realize that no more buildings are really needed for a considerable time. This may be bad news for contractors, egomaniac architects and power hungry tycoons, particularly those promoting what Meades prefers to term as the “MacDonald” brand of architectural practice. He rejects the fact that any of these building practices can be remotely hidden behind the guise of a “green” or ‘inherently sustainable” mask. (Clark, 2009). Rather, he dismisses such terminologies as careful mantras of crass commercialism to avoid an environmental backlash to the unending greed of the industrialists. Sustainability, he further states, will come with knowing when to stop and give the environment a rest (Clark, 2009)
There are many points to add to the Meades contention. Building is becoming a wasteful activity indeed. The recent bloom and boom of construction activity has largely been a result of the post 1970’s privatizations around the world. This, along with the technological revolution, paved the way for the modern day social, political and cultural revolutions in the world of construction where as it was possible to witness such architectural miracles as St Pancras Tube Station, as well as some disappointments like the Millennium Dome (Scott, 2006). One lesson was, however, clear at the end of these projects: simply, that the miracles of digital fabrication and speed of the detail and design have led to a mindless and seamless construction tradition rather than bringing about creative transformation, all of which was once the conventional perceptions of architectural practice.
For these reasons, according to Meade, Donald Trump’s latest plans to build ‘a global golf destination tourist-hub” is not a practice in innovation or sustainability, but yet another effort to fill the free space with a “New Trumpton-on-Sea’ (Clark, 2009). This emerges as the curse of modern green industrialization, and standardization has been long assumed as a bane not only on the environment but also on the culture of industry and building. Architecture and buildings have become like fast food and instant coffee for the instant gratification of the power hungry constructors whose homogenous and generic structures have taken away the purpose from building. Arguably, these structures are neither impressive nor sustainable but a hazard to the environment due to their sheer nuisance value in enhancing global warming and creating visual pollution.
Meade’s comments which equate the very act of building with “an eco igloo of Fair-trade otter droppings, carbon-neutral panda scraps, ethical vegan meat, organic yoghurt pots, recycled slurry and biodegradable avocado face wipes” (the Meades Interveiew, 2009) may be humorous at first instance but they are definitely food for thought. One may ponder as to where our environment will be in a few years after the skyscrapers have “scrapped” the ozone layer and there is not one sign of scenic beauty in sight due to the vast amount of concrete jungles crammed in traffic intensive metropolitan cities.
At such a point, more buildings will be bane rather than a boon and the only thing sustainable then would simply the irreversible damage they have wreaked upon the atmosphere. The current state of the environment has been a concern of environmentalists for a long time. In fact, the Stern Report (2006) on the Economics of Climate Change made some landmark observations as to the detrimental impact of wasteful construction and carbon generating activities on increasing global warming(Stern,2006).
The now famous words of Meades should come as a warning for the capitalist economies around the world. Self-interest is not always good, and the public good at this point does not lie in lucrative economies and shiny skyscrapers. The public good, rather the human good now is to leave clean water and bearable weather conditions for our future generations. It has been stressed by scientists again and again that the global climate is in a state of flux and will continue to fluctuate sometimes unpredictably and abnormally over the coming decades of the 21st century, at least partly due to the constantly increasing greenhouse emissions from traffic and large metal buildings which it is believed are adding to the adverse amounts of poisonous concentrations in the atmosphere as well as abnormal temperatures and wind patterns (Scott, 2006).
On a final note, perhaps this greed for bigger and more commercial concrete and metal structures will end on its own. On the other hand, if such greed knows no bounds then a collective action needs to be taken by the people themselves at grass roots level to reject such slow and steady misappropriation of the environment. If no steps are taken now, then modern day architects and greedy builders will continue to rape and assault the natural environment through their safety mantras of ‘sustainability’ which Meades mockingly calls, “sustain-fabulous” and “sustain-asdic”! (Clark, 2009) This will happen through the hands of irresponsible architects less interested in building dams and natural conservatories than in constructing yet more massive shopping plazas in the name of “architectural correctness” in a starkly ugly act of “conformist unoriginality (Clark, 2009).
- Clark (2009) News Item: Meades on sustainable architecture available at http://zerochampion.building.co.uk/2009/09/14/meades-on-sustainable-architecture/ retrieved on September the 14th, 2009.
- Interview By Jonathan Meades accessed through Clark (2009) News Item: Meades on sustainable architecture available at http://zerochampion.building.co.uk/2009/09/14/meades-on-sustainable-architecture/ retrieved on September the 14th, 2009.
- Stern, N. (2006). The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press
- Scott, D. (2006). Climate change and sustainable tourism in the 21-st century. In: J. Cukier (Ed.), Tourism Research: Policy, Planning, and Prospects (p.175248). Waterloo: Department of Geography Publication Series, University of Waterloo.