Green is the new black.
After spending 150 years cutting down trees New Zealand had finally
arrived at the point where some reassessment was needed before for the
last trees disappeared. That proved however to be too big a challenge
for business, and architecture, where exploitation was the foundation
on which success was built. The alternative was to avoid thinking and
justify the irresponsible by planting a tree.
It seemed by 2008 that the world had gone mad. Carbon-trading had to be
the greatest con trick of all time and it seemed that no one noticed.
Everyone was too busy making money out of nothing.
The Green Architecture course, as usual. responded to the needs of the students, but the diversity of the group was astonishingly wide. From business as usual architecture with green as the new black to the politically powerless being exploited by Councils and developers. I loved the challenge because it kept me on my toes. By the time we almost all finally collapsed into laughter, with good wine and great jazz, we had run the whole gambit of green architecture from agony to ecstasy, or perhaps it was the other way around.
It would be impossible to sum up the thrust and counterthrust of the debate. There were too many surprises and too many eccentricities. I was learning as much as anyone else. Through sharing the amazing Japanese tea house high above the heads of the building inspectors Vatra drew my attention to three buildings by Jun Aoki, the famous Japanese architect. A day later we were both able to meet him at the Maidment and talk about these buildings.
Perhaps the best story of the weekend was that of the marquee erected for a wedding. Somehow the Council got involved and insisted that there should be a permit. The bureaucratic tangle got worse, but the wedding went ahead. As the marquee was being packed away the permit finally arrived, giving permission for it to remain standing for another fifty years. A good omen for the wedding. The golden jubilee will not need another permit. Salvador Dali would have collapsed into laughter, but the sadness is that so many lives are hurt by idiotic bureaucracy.
Power corrupts, as it always has, and most architecture gives form to power.
Interestingly an emphasis on “healing” became a dominant theme for the weekend. Good architecture has the power to heal. To heal not only our lives but also to heal a broken world. You could say that green architecture heals, in the same way that our bodies constantly seek to heal themselves.
Healing the land is important too. Heidi and Jan watched “Alchemy of Green” a 50 minute film by Dave Dawson. Dave very graciously came to the course to talk about his film.
We discussed the need for drawings to convey poetry just as much as technical information, and the need for greater empathy between architects and builders. To explain this we delved into “Carlo Scarpa”, A&U 1985 Extra Edition, Tokyo.
We shared other books not on my booklist but which addressed concerns raised by students.
One student wanted to know if there were any books of “architectural tips” which a lay person could easily follow. I suggested two.
“101 Things I Learned in Architecture School”, Matthew Frederick, MIT Press Cambridge, 2007. This book had been a world-wide sell out and probably was not yet in any NZ library. The copy we were looking at was one of the first to come into New Zealand.
“A Pattern Language”, Christopher Alexander and others, Oxford University Press, New York, 1977. I do not accept that you can imitate patterns while ignoring the process which brought them about, but the patterns themselves are really useful.
Some books had appeared on my shelf in the six months since the last course. “Homework”, on handbuilt shelter, by Lloyd Kahn, Shelter Publications, 2004, was a sequel to the 1973 book Shelter.
“Hot Topic, Global warming and the future of New Zealand”, Gareth Renowden, AUT Media, Auckland 2007, gave an excellent overview of the current conventional wisdom. However it completely failed to mention the built environment as either cause or solution, but that error must also be conceded to be part of the conventional wisdom.
We also emphasised Melbourne as that was where Kelvin had been for some time, sharing Alistair Knox, Living Shelter, etc.
Lai Wah Ding and Yong Chyan Ding, formerly from Singapore, brought along plans of the house Golden Homes were about to build for them. There were so many simple solar changes which could have made their house more liveable, but after two years struggling with bureaucrats and developers they felt change was impossible. The total incompetence of Council bureaucrats and developers became glaringly obvious. These people should have been helping clients to get things right, and instead they were just wielding power with a careless lack of concern for people, or the fact that any building is going to be around for a long time. Organisations like DBH and BRANZ are doing a very bad job. The drive which could have been a solar collector, for example, was on the south. We suggested reflector systems but it would have been so much easier to get it all right in the first place.
Having high tides at lunch time brought some sanity to this crazy world and everyone who wanted to was able to dive in for a swim. All University courses should have this option.
By our Sunday afternoon break Alex and the jazz band were playing on top of the pump station. Bob blew his trumpet. The way buildings ought to be used. Our group descended into good wine and laughter. Des’ bowl of salad morphed into the party. Very late at night the parachute got packed away. I concluded that our frail structure had produced a generous surplus, satisfying the basic measure of green architecture,
Doing is so much more fun than talking about what you ought to be doing.