Debates on Sustainability. A Genealogy (1972-1992)

My current research project aims to outline a genealogy of the debates on sustainability in architecture and related fields since the late 1960s. While sustainability is a fashionable concept in architecture these days, the historical emergence of the complex notion, especially with regards to low-tech ideas
and grass roots methods, has not been covered yet in a comparative approach. This both historically and theoretically oriented project studies the reciprocity and mutual influence of the emergence of ecological thought and environmental consciousness in society, and the emergence of a complex notion of sustainability in architecture, understood both aesthetically and technologically.

The period under research is framed by the publication of the report "Limits to Growth", issued by the Club of Rome in 1972, and the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, the so called "Earth Summit", in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Conceived as an institutional analysis, the objective of this research is to study, on the basis of case studies from Europe and North America, to what extent public debates on social, environmental and economic sustainability have had an effect on developments in the design of the built environment, as a broader cultural phenomenon. As a transatlantic research, which focusses on developments in German speaking countries, this study starts with the analysis of selected pioneer projects and experimental buildings, manuals and political- philosophical texts. Moreover, I will look at the mediation of sustainable thought and design through architectural journals, educational programs and public events; its institutionalization through product innovation and legislative reforms; and the fostering through awards and scholarships.

As preliminary studies, I gave a paper on Lucius Burckhardt’s notion of landscape, nature and the environment at the conference of the European Association for Urban History in 2012, and conducted an interview with Frei Otto on his approaches to adaptability, ecology, and economy in architecture, which is published in ARCH+ 211/212 in June 2013. Recently, I have received a six months Fellowship of the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, which would enable me to conduct initial research on case studies of sustainable architecture in Baden-Württemberg within the next two years and thus to launch the project.