The vacuity of ‘critical pluralism’

‘Sustainable Architecture: Cultures and Natures in Europe and North America’ by Simon Guy and Steven Moore (Eds); Spon Press, 2005. 269pp

Reviewed by Austin Williams | 3 March 2005

Yet another tome from the Newcastle home of new-sustainability with a hands-across-the-sea research link with American and north European Universities. Guy, together with Graham Farmer who also has an essay here, are both from Newcastle’s School of Architecture and have collaborated in the past on the influential paper ‘Reinterpreting Sustainable Architecture: the place of technology’ and Moore is co-director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Sustainable Development. There is also an essay by one Adriaan Slob.

The two authors suggest that at the moment ‘the debate rages on between what are called light green and deep green architects’ but fail to note that this ‘raging’ argument is more style than substance. It is between those who think that designers are still irresponsibly assaulting resources and that they therefore need to be cajoled into more recognition and action, and those who think that sustainable design has gone mainstream and that, by osmosis, sustainable ideas are influencing designers already, thank you very much. This is not a debate about the issue, this is a technical argument about management and implementation which is reflected in the fact that the authors offer this book to the reader as a ‘celeb(ration of) the diversity of contemporary debate… (it is) a collage of differing analyses and intention.’

The clue is in the title ‘cultures and natures’: this book is sustainability meets relativism, and it basks in the vacuity of ‘critical pluralism.’ Just when I thought that the sustainability debate couldn’t get any worse, we now find that everything is equally valid, nothing is wrong, all seems worthy of taking on board, no judgement ensues and we learn absolutely nothing.


Author: austinwilliams

Austin Williams is the director of the Future Cities Project and author of a number of books on the environment and on China. The latest are "China's Urban Revolution" (Bloomsbury) and "New Chinese Architecture: Twenty Women Building the Future" (Thames and Hudson).

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