Sustainable architecture

A short history

Authored by: Vandana Baweja

Routledge Handbook of the History of Sustainability

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  October  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138685796
eBook ISBN: 9781315543017
Adobe ISBN:


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Climate change and its metrics—energy consumption and the carbon cycle—have come to dominate contemporary discourses on sustainable architecture and design. Competing and overlapping design paradigms and environmental assessment methods such as—Cradle to Cradle, Bioclimatic Architecture, Biomimicry, Passive and Low Energy Architecture (PLEA), Ecological Design, Net Zero buildings, and Zero-carbon building, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), and Passivhaus—promise sustainability. These design paradigms are targeted towards sustainable development through a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and accomplishing efficiencies in the use of energy and materials. The larger goal is to attain an ecological balance between consuming the earth’s finite resources and its regenerative capacity. Sustainable development was first defined in the Brundtland Report, titled Our Common Future, as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” 1 Since the 1990s, as sustainable development emerged as the new paradigm of economic growth based on the carrying capacity of the earth, the term “sustainability” entered the academic discourse and has had an enduring impact on several disciplines in academia. Although, urbanism was amongst the core sectors that sought sustainable development, but the Brundtland Report did not address extensively the role of architecture and urbanism in building a sustainable society. The report stressed minimizing pollution, achieving clean air, conserving water, reliance on renewable energy, and poverty reduction in cities of the Global South as the overarching goals for accomplishing sustainable development. 2 Although the Brundtland Report and the blossoming of the sustainability movement helped to bring awareness to many sectors of society, including architecture and design, the concern for environmental building dates back to the 1960s and 1970s. The growth of the sustainability movement, combined with the realization that humans were affecting the climate through the use of fossil fuels (including those used in the built environment) further pushed the architectural world toward sustainable design. Thus, since the late 1980s and early 1990s, sustainable architecture has become an articulated value, and is now regularly associated with the carbon cycle, global ecology, and various facets of sustainability (urbanism, transportation, consumption, and so on). To assess the paradigmatic genealogy of sustainable architecture, let us examine how anthropogenic climate change became a global architectural concern and how architects have responded to shifting environmental concerns.

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