Green Architecture 17 March 2007

ImageIn 12 months there had been big political changes. Only a year ago climate change had been fringe, and now it was mainstream. Helen Clark had set the agenda at the opening of parliament for New Zealand to lead the world in sustaining the life of the planet. It was a time to be proactive rather than reactive. The new Building Act however had moved New Zealand back a hundred years into the very dark ages.

 

 

 

 

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Trying to reconcile this extreme level of philosophical conflict was a daunting task, but with a wonderful crowd of mature students it was possible to quickly develop strategies to engage the issues, recognising that navel gazing was not going to take us very far.

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For example we decided that everyone ought to go out and apply to be a "Licensed Building Practitioner". I cannot even guess how the government will react, but if thousands of people apply someone will start to get a very important message. To be alive is to be subversive.

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Doing is a lot more fun than talking about what ought to be done. We had our coffee and biscuits before we began exploring the concept of Manakitanga. We built ourselves a venue and set about producing a surplus before we discussed how that is what all Green Architecture must do. Producing more than it consumes.

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We allowed the site to write the brief, instead of getting people to do that. We avoided problems instead of dealing with them. We allowed the architecture to constantly respond to changing circumstances eventually retreating so that books did not get wet on the Sunday. Doing all this made it possible to understand the concept of ambience in traditional Korean courtyard housing.

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It was fun building a house with the street running through the middle of it. Very soon every stranger who passed through did amazing theatrical performances of their willingness to engage, or their inability to relate to other human beings. Nothing like getting people to let it all hang out and declare their personality. The complete contrast was the privacy and enclosure of sitting around the table. Green Architecture is not either/or. It is both/and. We found out how you just go around problems and leave a trail of them behind you for the negative people to fall in love with.

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Doing is of course always a political act. Building is a political act. In response to questions about future political action we found we needed to look back at past political actions to learn some lessons. We traced the history of the environmental movement from Stockholm in 1972 up to the present.

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At Stockholm it seemed that there were technical fixes. If there was pollution coming out of the chimney then you needed a filter. The NZ Institute of Architects is more than 30 years out of date as they struggle to apply technical fixes to unsustainable buildings.

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The next phase of the environmental movement was the Gaia or one earth perception. You throw a plastic bottle in the tide in Auckland and it turns up in Tokyo. Climate Change needs to be seen as a process within a closed system.

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The third phase of the environmental movement was the realisation that our political processes were not designed to deal with the environmental questions which were being asked. The incomprehensible response to the Leaky Building fiasco has highlighted that this is still a critical issue. The developers who caused it gained an advantage and protection, while the owner-builders who had nothing to do with it were penalised.

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The fourth phase of the environmental movement was the realisation that building is a spiritual activity. A house is not a consumer object to be traded in the marketplace but rather an exploration of the meaning of life. We came close to getting a Building Act which would recognise this but then the government did not have the courage.

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This led us into endless anecdotes and useful tips. We developed techniques for dealing with building inspectors. We observed how Megan and Mark had rewritten the Ambassadors speech in Istanbul. We looked at Vancouver 1976 and the birth of the Forum.
We noted how Habitat II in Istanbul had brought governments and NGOs together. We learned from Bob Harvey and his "First city in the world...." speech, and Mayor Robbie with his "The largest Polynesian city...." speech. The Minimal Building Institute. Different responses to the Jogjakarta earthquake. Kaitiakitanga and RMA. The Select Committee process. Cicada architecture. The smell of summer.

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Place and placelessness. Stories. Houses getting better as they mature. Education, not teaching. Not seeking power and control. Finding the house hidden within the site. Getting that 10M2 permit free shed up so that it is possible to feel the land and listen to the ruru.

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Tokyo as a sustainable city because its form makes constant renewal possible. The cells of our bodies renewing themselves. Living architecture and living cities. Japanese "farms" on disconnected plots. Iwamura's destruction of this pattern.

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The Maori perception of buildings surrounding the marae, rather than the pakeha idea of the object occupying the site.

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Making a music space rather than a house. Or a library.

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As Bob paddled off in his canoe we were left wondering if roads are really necessary.

 

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