BEYOND PEAK INDIFFERENCE #1 – I am currently organizing moderating a conversation series “Beyond Peak Indifference” which puts climate change on the agenda differently. Rather than designers talking to designers, these talks are between designers and sociologists, economists, scientists, lawyers and activists. BEYOND PEAK INDIFFERENCE is a series of reflections on these conversations and an attempt to define a framework of questions we as designers need to answer.
Architecture is a slow profession. Designing takes months or even years, approval processes take months or even years and the construction itself also takes years. It is not untypical that half a decade has passed from the first idea to the finished building. One has to be aware of that slowness when thinking about changing architecture and construction. In the face of climate change, this snail speed is a big problem. We are given until 2050 to reach climate neutrality. That is about one human generation or maybe two building technology generations.
If we see the scale of change between one generation of building and another, so far they have not been so big. A bit more insulation, a bit more airtight, better regulation of the mechanics, a more technological advanced construction process and – maybe – one new building material used. Visually, today’s buildings do not differ that much from those of 20 or 30 years ago, apart from the postmodern pastiche having been replaced by more literally classical accents. All this is very worrying in the face of the climate challenge since in architecture and construction the systemic change that is needed has barely started. We still design and build in the same old way with the traditional materials we use since decades, if not millennia. We create images that portray change by putting trees everywhere – and we occasionally build them. The result – a CO2 balance that is worse than the comparable structures without any green. But greenwashing will not get us where we need to be.
It needs a more radical approach – a systemic change beyond comparison. Scott McAulay, the founder of the Anthropocene Architecture School has realized that like few others. His school educates those who make the decisions for future buildings: planning officers, politicians, designers, builders and – most importantly – the public. If we all stop buying the houses that are not sustainable, then the market will change very quickly. If we don’t, change will still come but at a point where we have passed the point of no return. It is up to us.
by Markus Appenzeller