the history of sustainability…

April 28, 2016 § 1 Comment

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 1.45.01 PM…in three lines.  That’s a Google Ngram of every time the words “solar energy,” “insulation,” and “sustainability” were mentioned in a Google-scanned book between 1945 and 2010.

What’s it show?

I’d argue that it shows the difference between tactical thinking in response to the energy shocks of 1973 and 1979, and strategic thinking after the implications of those sank in.  Between 1975 and 1980 there was an increasing interest in how you actually change building components–Trombe walls, anyone?–without really changing much about bigger picture issues.

But starting in the late 1980s thinking about buildings as integrated materials and systems moved out of the hippies-only, build-a-dome-in-the-desert realm and (gradually) into mainstream architectural thinking.  By 2000 there were serious books out there about how the networks of transportation and commerce that those buildings found themselves in were if anything an even bigger part of the problem, and as the limits of changing individual elements became apparent designers and clients started thinking more and more about how design strategy might address growing energy costs.  [Disclaimer: Ngrams are notorious for showing exactly what you want them to show, and yes, this clean history only emerged after messing around a bit with the terms.  An illustration, not hard evidence].  [And no, my students are still not allowed to use the word “sustainable” in studio, but since the rest of the world uses it as a shorthand for “energy efficient” we’ll go with it for the moment].

And by “I’d argue” I mean “what I’m about to say in class is…”  Last day of Big and Tall this afternoon, looking at issues of final and motive causation in practice today and beyond…

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§ One Response to the history of sustainability…

  • Jen @ CAF says:

    Ah yes, trombe walls… a ‘totally rad’ flashback. They lived on even a bit longer and were still taught in my environmental tech classes circa 1990. 😉 Thanks for fun graph, thoughtful analysis, and etymology tonight.

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