An Archive of Contemporary Thought in Sustainable Architecture


Canal Siren, Venice 2000





Robert Hotten, Office for Sustainable Architecture, 2008

From the dictionary:

(sus- under + tenere, to hold) to keep in existence; maintain or prolong

(archi-, chief + tekton,carpenter) the science, art, or profession of designing and constructing buildings etc.

Sustainable architecture, from the Latin and Greek word origins, is in part, the enduring production of space, as described in "The Production of Space". (Lefebvre) Architecture, to be retained from the past, must have value (perhaps beauty too), which distinguishes it from building, and defines its sustainability. The Parthenon is the place that is the oldest and most used of all. (Vitruvius)

Sustainable architecture is the historic norm and form- vernacular, natural, and ecological. (Diprose) For example, traditional Hawaiian architecture lends a rich diversity of sustainable forms, agricultural practices and aquaculture. Other vernacular tropical architectures, from Malaysian traditional (wood houses), to the Australian contemporary sustainable architecture of Glenn Mercutt (recent Pritzger prize winner) are some of the best practices in the world today. Hawaii suffers from the SIDS (Small Island Developing State) syndrome so clearly defined by the United Nations reports, making conservation of all resources critical. Architecture informs ecology, not the opposite. (Wigley) Modernist architecture, consumerism, productivism, and scientism, is the deviation and dead end branch of the tree of architecture. (Harries) Note there seldom is any significant form in modernist architecture. That discussion can be left to the Architects of Criticality such as Tafuri, Koolhaus, and Eisenman. (Baird) We have become accustomed to thinking that consumerist architecture is the norm where sustainable architecture is a small patch-up sub-field of modernist marketplace architecture.

Class emerges out of surplus. (Marx) From the resources of land, capitol, and information come the farmers, workers, and the hacker. Out of the surplus of these efforts emerge the classes of pastoralists, capitalists, and vectoralists. (Wark) Surplus is the mechanism of the abuse of consumerism, productivism, and scientism. They cannot exist without surplus. Two fields of knowledge operate on and effect surplus:

1. Vernacular architecture (including natural building and ecological design), that is sustainable architecture processes, function throughout history without surplus; and

2. Environmental design (including at least architecture, landscape, planning, urban design and regional resource conservation conforming to the principles of environmental, social, and economic sustainability), that is, low or zero energy use technologically sustainable architecture, striving towards balance.

There are six historical principles (vernacular trends) to improve the energy efficiency and durability and thereby effectiveness and useability of dwellings. They are: 1) siting and vernacular design; 2) shade; 3) ventilation; 4) earth shelter, 5) thermal inertia; and 6) air lock entrances. Six new principles (environmental design processes) technologies, methods of energy effectiveness, and design synthesis can be added: 7) scale (footprint), balance of environmental, social, and economic costs, insulation, design of future alternatives; 8) on site water collection and waste disposal; 9) solar water heating panels; 10) photovoltaic and wind electricity generation; 11) recycling and use of local and durable materials; and 12) on site growth of food, fuel and building materials. These twelve principles can be combined, as suitable, into synthesized solutions for various locations, users and climates that meet cultural needs with available materials under local conditions. Some of the benefits are: Conservation of natural and building resources; Increased building durability; Increased user comfort and satisfaction; Energy and material savings; Elimination of waste and pollution; Savings from recycling.

In conclusion sustainable architecture is then the enduring production of space with artistic, effective, and low cost and low or zero energy use architecture. It frees ecological, social, and economic resources from the illusory, and "black hole", surplus economies of consumerism, productivism, and scientism, and affects a result that can, after Francoise Choay "accommodate pleasure and the unforseen."


Baird, George, 2004, "Criticality" and Its Discontents, Harvard Design Magazine, Harvard University Press: Cambridge.

Choay, Francoise, 1997, The Rule and the Model, Mit Press: Cambridge.

Diprose, Peter, 2000, Building Form and the Architectural Implications of Sustainability, PhD. Thesis, University of Auckland: Auckland.

Lefebvre, Henri 1991, The Production of Space, Blackwell: Oxford

Marx, Karl, 1993, Capital, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Vitruvius , 1547, On Architecture, Loeb Classical Edition.

Wark, McKenzie, 2004, A Hacker Manifesto, Harvard University Press: Cambridge.

Wigley, Mark, 2005, Recycling Recycling, Interstices 4, University of Auckland: Auckland.

Virtual Tour Gallery, Biennale di Venezia 2000 the field.html copyleft 1988-2008 robert hotten - all lefts reserved



Eco design community, Kauai, Hawaii copyleft 1988-2015 robert hotten - all lefts reserved