Architects Must Take Broader View on Sustainable Development, Swiss-UK Report Urges

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Architects must broaden their horizons and fully engage with all aspects of sustainable development to create urban environments which are both environmentally responsible and aesthetically pleasing, according to a new report published today by the Embassy of Switzerland in the UK.

To achieve a sustainable way of being we must work at all levels and scales. Whether it is retrofitting existing cities or creating entirely new urban areas, we must plan and think about them in their entirety

Architects must broaden their horizons and fully engage with all aspects of sustainable development to create urban environments which are both environmentally responsible and aesthetically pleasing, according to a new report published today by the Embassy of Switzerland in the UK.

“Urban Sustainability: a Contradiction in Terms” brings together top architects from the UK and Switzerland alongside philosophers, designers and urban planners to discuss how best to create a sustainable future and what lessons can be learned from both the British and the Swiss experience.

H. E. Mr Alexis P. Lautenberg, Ambassador of Switzerland in the UK, says: “Dialogue is critical: to discuss best practices and look at lessons learned, to build networks and cross-fertilise the discussion, to inspire and to find new innovative approaches towards urban sustainability.”

The report highlights how new homes built to Switzerland’s “Minergie” energy efficiency standard actually enjoy a 7 percent premium on the property market in Zürich. Another example of successful sustainable architecture is the Bankside building housing London’s Tate Modern museum; designed by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron, and immensely popular with the public as an open and interactive cultural and social space.

The expert contributors agree that this broad view is essential to understand how sustainable architecture can stimulate urban well-being. Stefan Behling, Senior Partner at Foster + Partners, underlines this saying: “To achieve a sustainable way of being we must work at all levels and scales. Whether it is retrofitting existing cities or creating entirely new urban areas, we must plan and think about them in their entirety.”

Ian Taylor, Partner at architect Feilden Clegg Bradley, agrees that a holistic approach is needed: “There’s a slight danger in the way that architecture is addressing sustainability. If we have a blinkered view that we just have to get a building that doesn’t consume energy to operate, we’ve solved the problem, we simply haven’t.”

This is echoed and expanded by the philosopher and author Alain de Botton, who argues in the report that ugliness and loneliness are the two biggest design challenges facing architects working in modern cities.

“It seems that the dream of the city is encounters and communication, but too often the city becomes an area of ghettoisation and loneliness, where people can only meet through the spheres of family or work units,” de Botton says.

The challenge for architects in a world with limited resources is not to just create new buildings, but to think about how they foster community spirit and urban well-being. Curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist, of London’s Serpentine Gallery, uses the example of the visionary British architect Cedric Price who was always reluctant to build objects, preferring to create structures with limited lifespan that would regenerate cities and rejuvenate communities.

Obrist says: “Over the past years, major institutions built new wings, new space, but no one thought about how to fill them”.

The report is based on dialogue between high-profile individuals from the public sector, private sector and Government in the UK and Switzerland including Peter Droege, Professor for Sustainable Development at the Institute of Architecture and Planning in Hochschule Liechtenstein, Nick Beglinger, CEO of the Foundation for Global Sustainability, and Prof. Kees Christiaanse is an urban planner, and founder and partner of KCAP.

It also includes contributions from Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, Corine Mauch, the Mayor of Zürich and Moritz Leuenberger, Head of the Swiss Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications.

For further information, please contact:

Mallika Basu     The Communication Group    020 7630 1411
mbasu(at)thecommunicationgroup(dot)co(dot)uk

Lucy Grimble    The Communication Group    020 7630 1411
lgrimble(at)thecommunicationgroup(dot)co(dot)uk

William French    Embassy of Switzerland    020 7616 6047
william(dot)french(at)eda(dot)admin(dot)ch

Notes to editors:

  •     The dialogues were conducted in March 2010 between the following:

o    Urban well being: Alain de Botton, author and philosopher, and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Co-Director of Exhibitions and Programmes and Director of International Projects at the Serpentine Gallery in London
o    Planning: Professor Peter Roberts, Board Member of the Homes and Communities Agency, the UK Government’s national housing and regeneration body, and Professor Kees Christiaanse, urban planner and founder and partner of KCAP
o    Transport: Stephen Joseph, Executive Director of Campaign for Better Transport, and Christoph Suter, project leader in the Transport Planning Division of the Civil Engineering Office at the City of Zürich
o    Building: Ian Taylor, Partner at architect Feilden Clegg Bradley, and Nick Beglinger, Co-Founder & CEO of the Foundation for Global Sustainability (FFGS), as well as President of the Swisscleantech business association

  •     The report is being launched at a invitation-only conference Sustainable Urban Development – Visions from Switzerland and the UK hosted by the Swiss Embassy in London on 17th June

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