ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

Environmental degradation became an issue in those locales where citizens suffered the
unintended consequences of modern industrial development. In England, workers first
experienced the grim conditions associated with the Dickensian city in the mid-18th
century. In the rest of Europe and North America, the degraded industrial landscape
emerged by the mid-19th century, and globally such conditions emerged in the 20th
century. By the end of that century, the condition of the environment had become an
issue not only for the world’s industrial workers but also for an increasingly diverse
population who could no longer isolate themselves from the fouled water, polluted air,
and multiple health hazards that derive from industrial capitalism.
Historians and philosophers attribute the emergence of a degraded natural
environment to various sources. The historian Lynn White, Jr. (1907–), for example,
argued that the anthropo-centric assumptions of mainstream Christianity are largely
responsible for the instrumental view of nature held in those Western societies where
industrial capitalism first developed. It is that instrumental logic, according to White, that
has made nature appear to humans as available for exploitation and consumption.
Postmodern philosophers of nature, such as Arne Naess (1912–), construct a slightly
different narrative. Naess and the deep ecologists who followed him have tended to see
the origins of the degraded natural world in the foundational assumptions of such early
moderns as the French philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650) and the English natural
philosopher Francis Bacon (1561–1626). Most historians agree that the Cartesian and
Baconian creeds became popularly accepted in Western society by about 1850. Although
this modern reconceptualization of nature became dominant by the mid-19th century, it
did not extinguish contrary views. The idealization of nature by the French philosopher
Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–78) and the counter-modernism of the German philosopher
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) set the stage for the 20th-century reassessment of our
relationship to the natural world.
In the view of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), the sum of
mainstream Christian and philosophically modern doctrines has been to institutionalize
what he describes as “modern technological thinking”—a form of consciousness in which
nature is understood as a static human resource or reserve. Heidegger’s influential
criticism of modern science and technology would resonate throughout the 20th century.
The reaction against modern environmental degradation predictably emerged in those
locales that were most affected by industrial excess—England, Germany, and North
America. In England, the Arts and Crafts movement, through the writings of John Ruskin
(1819–1900) and the socialist Utopian projects of William Morris (1834–96), articulated
a particularly nostalgic critique of industrialization. Those who followed Ruskin and
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Morris—principally the architect Raymond Unwin (1863–1940) and the planner
Ebenezar Howard (1850–1928)—constructed progressive visions of urban life that
attempted to both rationalize and beautify industrialization in the form of the garden city.
In this tradition, English environmentalism has generally been associated with
progressive politics. However, architects such as C.F.A.Voysey (1857–1941) and Baillie
Scott (1865–1945), who enabled the retreat of industrialists to stylish houses in the asyet-
unpolluted countryside, can be associated with conservative politics.
As with the English Arts and Crafts movement, the German and Austrian architects
saw a return to craft as the best defense against industrialization and environmental
degradation. The German Romantic attitude is exemplified by the self-consciously
picturesque Darmstadt artists’ colony designed principally by Joseph Maria Olbrich
(1867–1908). That village-like refuge from industrialization embodies the emergent
romantic environmentalism that became a powerful conservative force in the Wei-mar
era of Germany. Although there were Bauhaus- or Deutsche Werkbund-influenced
environmentalists, such as the landscape architect Leberecht Migge (1881–1935), who
affiliated themselves with progressive political causes, environmentalism in Germany
between the world wars was more commonly associated with the blood-and-soil rhetoric
of anti-modern nationalists and National Socialists. Architects of the Bauhaus, Hannes
Meyer (1889–1954) chief among them, did articulate various progressive positions
advocating the production of a hygienic environment for industrial workers.
In North America, those agrarian pastoralists who descended from Thomas Jefferson
(1743–1826) and Henry David Thoreau (1817–62) developed a two-sided critique of
industrialization: those who favored environmental preservation and those who favored
environmental conservation. On the side of preservation were those romantics, such as
John Muir (1838–1914), who advocated creating nature preserves that would remain
forever untouched by development. On the side of conservation were those pragmatists,
such as Gifford Pinchot (1865–1946), who advocated environmentally responsible
development. As these two camps matured under the New Deal administration (1933–45)
of President Franklin D.Roosevelt (1882–1945), social elites and technocrats came to
dominate both. The principal environmental concern of social elites was aesthetic, while
the principal environmental concern of technocrats was natural resource sufficiency and
balancing the accounts of energy economics.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s (1867–1959) organic approach to architecture emerged within
these debates. In projects such as Fallingwater—the Edgar J.Kaufmann house (1936) at
Bear Run, Pennsylvania—Wright’s careful attention to the integration of the building
with the natural conditions of the site, as well as his attention to solar orientation and to
the use of local materials, supports those who argue that Wright’s architecture is
environmentally inspired. Other historians, however, argue that Wright’s architecture
responded to the environmental consequences of industrialization in only a metaphoric,
not a material, sense. For example, Wright’s proposal for Broadacre City (1935)
exemplifies rather than critiques the American suburban attitude toward nature. It is the
consumptive quality of suburban American land use practices that has produced the
related environmental conditions of urban sprawl, universal dependence on the
automobile, carbonization of the earth’s atmosphere, and global warming—a cause-andeffect
relation that gained increasing credibility among scientists at the century’s end.
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Following in the tradition of Wright, the organic architecture of Bruce Goff (1904–
82), Paolo Soleri (1919–), Herb Green (1929–), and Bart Prince (1947–) can be
characterized as profoundly anti-urban. Supporters of organic architecture argue that it is,
at the very least, a proto-environmentalist position. Detractors, however, argue that
organic architecture has achieved only the aestheticization of suburban life, thus masking
the environmental consequences of the American automobile culture. The growing
suburban population has tended to ignore the progressive environmental degradation in
North America until the mid-1960s. In the absence of public consciousness,
environmental issues were the concern of the poor who lived in the shadow of industrial
production, the technocrats who wished to manage it from above, and the social elites
who found it aesthetically unpleasant.
In the 1960s, however, several conditions conspired to change the political
complexion of environmentalism. First, the sanctity of science as an objective body of
knowledge came into question by such critical theorists as Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979).
If science could be understood as ideological and itself a source of environmental
degradation, Marxists found it increasingly difficult to distinguish between science and
the capitalist economy that commissioned it. Second, white middle-class citizens,
especially the so-called Woodstock generation, increasingly criticized the technocratic
capitalist economy because, like the poor, they too had begun to experience serious
environmental degradation. Following the 1962 publication of Silent Spri ng by Rachel Carson
(1907–64) and the political confrontation of the Vietnam War (1961–75),
environmentalists of the Left, such as Barry Commoner (1917–), inspired a new
generation who embraced architecture as a medium of environmental and political action.
The critique of modern architecture that emerged in the late 1960s can be
characterized as having two fronts, one aesthetic and one environmental. On the aesthetic
front were those populists, such as Robert Venturi (1925–), who argued for a linguistic
approach to architecture. Those who followed Venturi’s aes-thetic critique, Robert
A.M.Stern (1939–) and Michael Graves (1934–) among them, became associated with a
popular historicism that was much appreciated by corporate clients such as Walt Disney
and the suburban developers of shopping malls. On the second front of the critique of
modern architecture were those lesser-known environmentalists, such as Steve Baer
(1938), who dropped out of conventional society to form alternative cooperatives, such as
Zomeworks in northern New Mexico. For example, Baer’s Davis house (1976–77) at Corrales, New
Mexico, employed a variety of passive solar techniques that enabled his client to live
independent of commercial power sources. Most of those activists who followed Baer’s
environmental critique of modern architecture rejoined conventional practice in the 1980s
and produced a body of architecture distinguished mostly by its energy efficiency. The
counterculture environmental architecture of the 1960s and 1970s was deeply influenced
by the “dymaxion” principles and geodesic constructions of R.Buckminster Fuller (1895–
) expressed through Utopian interpretations of both the future and the past.
In the 1970s and 1980s, postmodern environmentalists in Europe and North America
routinely characterized modern architecture as both inhumane and inherently anti-nature.
In this reactionary view, modern architecture, like the modern science and technology
that enabled it, was understood to be the principal source of environmental degradation,
not its cure. Under scrutiny, however, such claims appear to be ideological and reflect the
romantic assumptions of environmentalists in that era. More careful analysis suggests that
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within modern architecture there is a continuous, if not constant, tradition of concern for
environmental issues, even among those major figures most often accused of abusing
natural processes. The California projects of Richard Neutra (1892–1970), the works of
Alvar Aalto (1898–1976), and even the later works of Le Corbusier (1887–1965) can be
understood as thoughtful attempts to design human environments in sympathy with the
natural energy flows of a particular site. Neutra’s Kaufmann Desert House (1946–47) at
Palm Springs and Le Corbusier’s experiments with natural ventilation at La Tourette
(1957–65) are particularly good examples that document the skill of modern architects in
addressing environmental issues.
It is such site-sensitive modern architecture that the historian Kenneth Frampton
(1930–) has described as “Critical Regionalism.” Frampton described a set of related
design attitudes that might provide resistance to both the globalizing tendencies of
modern technology and the repressive social codes associated with local building
traditions. To illustrate his hypothesis, Frampton pointed to the works of Mexican
architect Luis Barragán (1902–), the early projects of Swiss architect Mario Botta (1943–
), the houses of Australian architect Glenn Murcutt (1936–), as examples of sensitivity to
site and context. Frampton’s writings have generated a powerful proto-environmentalist
discourse that paved the way for the ecologically inspired architecture that appeared at
the end of the century.
Although the ecologically inspired architecture of the 1970s lost momentum when the
energy crisis of 1973 waned, it enjoyed a significant resurgence at the end of the century.
Under the rubric of green architecture and/or sustainable development, European and
North American architects produced a wide variety of projects that responded to the everexpanding
list of environ mental concerns. The term “sustainability” was first used in a
1980 publication by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN),
“World Conservation Strategy.” Although the definition of sustainable development is
widely contested, the concept attracted a broad following in both developed and
developing nations by the early 1990s. In a 1987 publication by the UN World
Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future—also known as The Brundtland Report—the concept
was defined as “development that does not destroy or undermine the ecological,
economic or social basis on which continued development depends.” Subsequent
international summit meetings on the environment—the first at Serrado Mar near Rio de
Janiero, Brazil (1992), and the second at Kyoto, Japan (1997)—vigorously debated the
political implications of sustainable development as a concept. The charged nature of the
international debate reflected the environmental and social effects of economic
globalization at the end of the century.
Although sustainable architecture had gained considerable visibility and support at the
century’s end, it would be a mistake to characterize it as a single, coherent ideology much
less a style. Rather, selected environmental issues confronting the late century gained
resonance with a number of competing and frequently opposed traditions within
architecture. Two British scholars, Simon Guy (1963–) and Graham Farmer (1965–),
identified six distinct factors that characterize the concept of sustainability in terms that
are alternately progressive and conservative, high tech and low tech, romantic and
pragmatic. Guy’s and Farmer’s six categories (or “logics”) are particularly helpful in
relating particular environmental issues to distinct constituencies and include the ecotechnic,
eco-centric, eco-aesthetic, eco-cultural, eco-medical and eco-social.
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“Eco-technic” logic uses technologies to treat environmental problems. The term
defines projects of those architects and engineers who work at a global scale, relying on
the language of technology and scientific research. This type of architecture often appears
modern, commercial, and future-oriented; the architects employ “hi-tech,” and energyefficient
construction methods, such as the photovoltaic production of electrical energy.
Projects by Norman Foster and Partners (Commerzbank Frankfurt, 1997), the Renzo
Piano Workshop (Cite Internationale, Lyon, 1995), or by the engineering firm Ove Arup exemplify an ecotechnic
logic in architecture.
“Eco-centric” logic in architecture is focused on reconstructing a spiritual relation
between humans and nature. These architects envision the world as fragile and therefore
rely on systemic ecology and other holistic approaches as a source of environmental
knowledge. Eco-centric buildings are understood to be consumptive, but can be redeemed
through employing such renewable technologies as straw-bale construction. The natural
harmony envisioned by those who support eco-centric architecture is exemplified by the
projects of Brenda (1949–) and Robert Vale (1948–) in the United Kingdom (the
Autonomous House, 1975) and by the “Earthships” (1983–90) of Mike Reynolds (1945–)
in New Mexico.
“Eco-aesthetic” logic in architecture is less concerned with energy efficiency and the
sanctity of nature than with metaphor and meaning. This group of architects prizes
iconicity, organics, and a non-linear approach to design. In this characterization of
sustainable architecture, human consciousness of nature is transformed as much by
organic expressionism as by new ecolog-ical knowledge. Eco-aesthetic architecture is
exemplified by the dramatic concrete constructions of Santiago Calatrava (1951–), the
fusion of landscape and architecture found in the works of SITE, and the complex
organic forms of Frank Gehry (1929–).
“Eco-cultural” logic involves the local cultural consequences of global technological
change. Space, in this tradition, is understood as phenomenological and bioregionally
unique. Typologically appropriate constructions are generally realized through “passive,”
“low-tech,” or “vernacular” technologies, such as adobe construction, that focus cultural
practices. Exemplars of eco-cultural logic, however, include the technologically inventive
houses of Glenn Murcutt (1936–) in Australia, the works of Charles Correa (1930–) in
India, and the midcentury works of Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy (1900–89).
“Eco-medical” logic is concerned principally with medical and health issues.
According to the eco-medical, the modern built environment is characterized as polluted
and even hazardous—the consequence of “sick building syndrome” that results from the
use of volatile chemical compounds in tightly constructed buildings coupled with
inadequate natural ventilation. The technologies employed by the practitioners of ecomedical
logic are “passive, nontoxic, natural, or tactile,” and are deployed to ensure
individual health and well-being. The Baubiologie (building biology) movement in Germany and the
Gaia group in Norway are practitioners of eco-medical logic.
The final environmental logic identified by Guy and Farmer is the “eco-social,” which
concerns itself with social participation in reproducing those natural processes that
enhance all life. In this tradition, ecological space can be interpreted only in the social
context of power relations. One cannot consider the health of the forest, for example,
without also considering the health of forest workers. Eco-social design, then, relies on
sociology and social ecology in architecture construction that is democratic, participatory,
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and locally managed. In the United Kingdom, Ralph Erskine (1914–) has employed ecosocial
logic in most of his projects, as have Lucien Kroll (1927–) in Belgium and Peter
Hubner (1939–) in Germany.
Each of the environmental logics identified by Guy and Farmer concern themselves
with a different set of environmental issues and attract citizens with differing political
and economic interests. There is, of course, considerable fluidity in the ideological
boundaries described in these various logics, but it is less the exclusive quality of the
categories that is important than the diversity of those citizens who are attracted to them.
Indeed, by the year 2000, the degraded condition of the environment had become a
significant issue not only to exploited workers but also to average citizens in every
country. On this account, a new breed of environmental activists exemplified by the
industrialist Paul Hawken (1946–) and the co-directors of the Rocky Mountain Institute,
Amory (1947–) and Hunter Lovins (1950–), predict that environmentally inspired
technology will come to dominate architectural production in the 21st century.

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