Why Sustainability Has Nothing to Do with Architecture and Everything to Do with Integrity: A Lecture by Alejandro Aravena

At a lecture he delivered in April this year the 4th Holcim Forum 2013 in Mumbai, Pritzker Jury member and Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena approached from an unconventional angle. The key to achieving the “Economy of Sustainable Construction” (the title of this year’s Holcim Forum), Aravena claims, requires two things: “in this generation, more psychiatrists; in the next generations, more breasts.”

Yes, psychiatrists and breasts. How did Aravena come to this conclusion? Through his firm ELEMENTAL’s work in the earthquake- and tsunami-damaged Chilean city of Constitución, he realized that their biggest challenge for reconstructing and initiating changes in the built environment lay in the lack of integrity among decision-makers. In the lecture, Aravena proclaims:  ”sustainability is nothing but the rigorous use of common sense.” By outlining a general list of points (established throughout years of designing an array of different projects in Chile and abroad), he reveals that projects that are truly ground-breaking or innovative, can and should, in fact, be traced back to general precepts that transcend sophisticated notions of architecture and the role of the architect.

Aravena contends that a person’s capacity to hold a particular view in private but abandon that view when it comes time to do business is the greatest testament to our (architects, politicians, developers, etc) endemic lack of integrity. “Integrity is, by it’s very definition, to be just one… Integrity is achieved when you are secure, and security comes from bonding.” It’s one thing to believe in the importance of building sustainably; it’s another thing to say “but business is business” while abandoning what one believes to be essential to effect change.

To a certain extent, it has been ably demonstrated that many of the hurdles barring truly sustainable practices spring from basic economic constraints. Until “sustainable” construction is cheaper than accepted and entrenched construction methods, we cannot reasonably expect that alternative practices can stand a chance at becoming commonplace. “There’s not doubt that there is a value in sustainable construction, but the way things are today we must pay a higher cost to achieve that value.” And so, through the provision of psychotherapy for the current generation, and with the focus on bonding between parent and child, it is Aravena’s hope that the improvement of the current state of affairs resides in a basic, undeniable form of education that is separate from a technical understanding of the practice of architecture and building. In stepping back and considering a much larger and formative issue, he concludes that ”the way to lower carbon emissions is through oxytocin.”

Don’t miss our interviews with Alejandro Aravena.

4th International Holcim Forum “Economy of Sustainable Construction”

Experts from all continents will meet in Mumbai at the 4th International Holcim Forum for Sustainable Construction – April 11-13, 2013. The conference for academics and professionals from architecture, civil engineering, urban planning, natural and social sciences will advance concepts on how construction needs to be re-invented and aligned with principles of sustainable development.

The focus of the three-day conference will be on the ongoing economic challenges in many parts of the industrialized world driving a paradigm shift. Governments, companies and individuals are all becoming aware that although sustainable development incurs costs, it also offers considerable economic potential. The Holcim Forum includes workshops and site visits and will be hosted by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT Bombay), and chaired by architect Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean of the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, USA, together with co-chair, engineer Battula K. Chakravarthy, IIT Bombay.

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European Winners of Holcim Awards Competition Announced in Milan

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The Holcim Award winners for Europe were recently announced in Milan for sustainable place making and materials innovation. The Gold 2011 for Europe and USD 100,000 was awarded to German architects realities united for a project on the UNESCO World Heritage site of Museuminsel in the heart of Berlin. The Flussbad urban plan will remediate an area rich in cultural heritage by transforming an under-utilized arm of the River Spree into a natural 745m-long “swimming pool”. The project will form a swimming zone equivalent to 17 Olympic-sized pools – and directly improve the quality of urban life and the ecology of the waterway. More information on the awards after the break.