The Problems of the Modern Built Environment

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The severity and complexity of the problems of the modern built environment and its large negative impact on the natural environment, as discussed in the previous chapter, indicate that the recent rising increase in urbanisation (UNDP, 2010; see Section 2.5) is likely to be leading to a crisis. In the Chinese language the word ‘crisis’ is made up of the characters for ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. It implies that an opportunity exists to change from a hazardous to a desirable state. According to Western resilience thinking, all ecosystems are exposed to change (Folke, 2002), and change should be embraced (Simonsen, 2007). The systematic crisis of the modern built environment provides the opportunity for both disseminating ideas about the creation of a sustainable built environment and acting on them, suggesting there is the possibility, and the need, for a radical transition.

Defining “Disseminating” in terms of Sustainability of the Built Environment

Notions of the Built Environment

For any profound and philosophical inquiry into how a radical change in architecture can be disseminated the ontology of what the term architecture really means is the first task to tackle. In common parlance, ‘the built environment’ has become synonymous with buildings and architecture. However, Le Corbusier (1923, p.187) romantically described the difference between buildings and architecture by stating,You employ stone, wood and concrete, and with these materials you build houses and palaces; that is construction. Ingenuity is at work. But suddenly you touch my heart,you do me good, I am happy and I say: “This is beautiful”. That is architecture. Art enters in.Here the artistic and aesthetic elements of architecture make it rise above ordinary buildings. In fact in conventional usage, the built environment usually means the manmade environment, whether this is buildings and infrastructure or man-made landscape, these being the main places where every day human activities occur (MFE,2005). It is often defined in contrast to the ‘un-built’ environment or the ecosphere (Moffatt and Kohler, 2008). Bartuska (2007, p.5) defines the built environment by means of its interrelated characteristics (Figure 3.1). This reinforces the fact that people are at the centre of the creation of the built environment, whatever the results for the external natural environment.In work arising from anthropological and behavioral science, both the phrase ‘built environment’ and its physical manifestation have been the basis of studying the impact of form and space on individual and social behaviour (Rapoport, 1976, pp.7- 35). More recently, it has come to be considered as the result of a process of social construction (Lawrence and Low, 1990). Over the last 10-15 years studies on the methodology of examining the relationship between the built environment, society and nature have emerged (Koskela, 2008). From a systems perspective (corresponding to the holistic worldview/wholeness of Taoism), both the built environment and the ecosphere must be considered together as complex, dynamic self-producing systems, as the built environment continuously requires a supply of energy and material, and rejects a continuous stream of degraded energy and waste back into the ecosystem (Rees, 2002). A model of such a social-ecological system shows that the built environment (an artefact) could be viewed as lying in between society and nature, with causation occurring in both directions (Figure 3.2) (Fischer-Kowalski and Weisz, 1999, p.242). In this model, the built environment is regarded as a connection between nature and culture, and it lies within both systems, unlike the modern worldview (the mechanistic one) which emphasizes the disconnections between human society and nature, seeing these as two equally independent entities. In terms of achieving a state of sustainability, as the solution to the previously discussed problems of the modern built environment, the built environment may be better understood as a complex socialecological system where multiple-related metabolisms interact at different scales (Moffatt and Kohler, 2008). It not only contains architecture, buildings, infrastructure,transportation and so forth, but also includes the human community, cultural experiences and interactions of people (Jenkin and Zari, 2009, p.3), within the natural system. In its broadest sense, the built environment could be thought of as ‘human society’. When thus thinking about the sustainability of the built environment, to a wider extent, this may actually mean sustainability of ‘human society’ as a whole. At a micro-level, the built environment could refer to architecture, a community or a nation. For the purpose of this thesis, the concept of the built environment as an artefact in an overlapping zone between culture and nature is used, as proposed by the model of the social-ecological system, but viewed holistically (Figure 3.2), accepting that it is shaped by context and reflects human values (Figure 3.1). The basic premise of this thesis therefore is that a ‘paradigm shift’ in the built environment towards sustainability will not occur unless there is a fundamental change in society. The objective of this thesis is to explore issues related to this topic as broadly as possible within the whole-system approach. To achieve this goal demands a multi-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary approach, as Rees suggests (2009) (see Section 1.3). The debate on sustainability of the built environment must be placed in the context of the economy, culture, society and nature and can only be examined through interdisciplinary research (Haberl et al., 2004, Bartuska, 2007, p.12).

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Table of Contents
List of Tables
List of Figures
Chapter 1 Introduction
1.1 Setting the Scene
1.2 Key Aims and Objectives
1.3 Methodology
1.4 Thesis Structure
Par A: Sustainable Development of the Built Environment
Chapter 2 The Problems of the Modern Built Environment 
2.1 Introduction
2.2 ‘Design without Nature
2.2.1 Water
2.2.2 Deforestation
2.2.3 Energy and Materials
2.2.3 (1) Energy
2.2.3 (2) Materials
2.2.4 Neglect of Local Climate
2.3 Ignorance of Local Cultures
2.4 Home: the place of consumption
2.4.1 ‘Big is Good’
2.4.2 ‘More is Better’
2.5 The Urbanised Built Environment
2.6 Architecture of the Mechanistic Worldview
2.6.1 ‘Skin Deep’
2.6.2 ‘Technological Fix’
2.6.3 ‘Specialisation’
2.7 Summary
Chapter 3 The Need for Promoting a Paradigm Shift to Achieve Sustainability of the Built Environment
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Defining ‘Disseminating’ in terms of Sustainability of the Built Environment
3.2.1 Notions of the Built Environment
3.2.2 On Sustainability
3.2.3 Why ‘Sustainability’ of the Built Environment, not a ‘Sustainable Built Environment
3.2.4 A Paradigm Shift towards Sustainability of the Built Environment
3.3 Summary
Chapter 4 The Green Movement and Its Relationship with the Green Building Movement
4.2 A Brief History of the Green Movement
4.3 The Emergence of the Green Building Movement as a Reflection of the Green Movement in the 1960s-1970s
4.3.1 Case Study: the autonomous house as a demonstration and embodiment of Buddhist economics
4.3.1 (1) The Holistic and Organic Worldview
4. 3.1 (2) Harmonious Attitude towards Nature
4.3.1 (3) Decentralisation
4.3.1 (4) Quality of Life
4.3.1 (5) Analysis of the Case Study
4.5 Summary
Chapter 5 The Role of The Built Environment in a Sustainable Society
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Vernacular Architecture as an Expression of Vernacular Culture
5.2.1 Ignorance of Vernacular Architecture
5.2.2 The Environmental Wisdom of Vernacular Architecture
5.2.3 Notions of Vernacular Architecture
5.2.4 Factors influencing the Form of Vernacular Architecture
5.3 Modern Architecture as a Reflection of Capitalism
5.3.1 Individual Freedom as Embodied in Modern Architecture
5.3.2 Technological Progress as an Influential Factor on the Emergence of Modern Architecture
5.3.3 The International Style as a Way of Marketing Capitalism
5.3.4 Slaves to the Capitalist Market
5.4 Summary: comparison between vernacular architecture, modern architecture and sustainable architecture
Part B: Theories on a Sustainable Society in the West and China
Chapter 6 Problems of the Industrial-Affluent-Consumer Society
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Man versus Nature
6.3 Globalisation
6.4 ‘Dying of Consumption’
6.5 Urbanisation
6.6 The Mechanistic Worldview
6.7 Summary
Chapter 7 The Root Causes of Modern Predicaments
7.1 Introduction
7.2 On Progress
7.3 Summary: Progress to a Sustainable Society
Chapter 8 Possible Models of a Sustainable Society
8.1 Introduction
8.2 Western Models of a Sustainable Society
8.3 Chinese Models of a Sustainable Society
8.4 Summary: the proposed model of a sustainable society
Part C: Demonstration of a Relationship between Social Theories and the Built Environment
Chapter 9 Case Studies of Communities
9.1 Introduction
9.2 Demonstration of Buddhist Economics
9.3 Reconciliation of Yin and Yang and Its Implications for the Built Environment
9.4 Promoting Value Change towards Sustainability
9.5 Preservation of Cultural Habits for a Sustainable Future
9.6 Community Resilience and Sustainability
9.7 Sustainable Housing Settlements: urban or rural?
9.8 Reaching Ecotopia
9.9 Summary
Part D: Implementing Strategies for Promoting a Sustainable Society and Sustainability of the Built Environment
Chapter 10 Strategies for Promoting a Paradigm Shift to a Sustainable Society and therefore Sustainability of the Built Environment
10.1 Introduction
10.2 Motivating Value Change towards Sustainability
10.3 Promoting Behavioural Change towards Sustainability
10.4 Building Communities
10.5 Living Rurally
10.6 Summary
Chapter 11 Conclusions, Recommendations and Contributions to


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