Our resources are running out, so the argument has been going in recent times. We are consuming too much material and energy, urbanising too much of our planet, and pumping too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for the planet Earth to cope with. This must come under control before it is too late, and that means urgently. Action is required by, among others, those involved in making built environments, to cut waste and pollution emitted from their products, and there appears to be enough evidence to marginalise the sceptics and justify urgent action. This call for action is backed in the construction-related professions by strings of targets, mandates and legislation aiming at cutting CO2 emissions and reducing waste etc. which position environmental ethics closer to sets of legal requirements: something not dissimilar in nature to standard codes of professional conduct. Whilst this institutionalisation of environmentally responsive design ethics has a role to play in maintaining environmental standards above certain levels, it also indicates that environmentalism’s stance is now beyond dispute, and that its associated values are more real than those of other ideologically-driven value systems in architectural design.
The assumption of environmentalism’s central role in good architecture has its parallels in the role ascribed to engineering, and later technology in a wider sense, in various periods during the 19th and 20th century in that engineering and technology too were seen as capable of stripping architecture of its redundant historic and stylistic residues. It followed that architectural design is a problem-solving exercise of an engineering nature and this is what, back to our times, can distinguish the ‘non-ideological’, factual environmental values from the more ideologically charged ethical ones. This, in turn raises again the question of whether the ethical is more closely associated with a commitment to fulfil the brief or to rethink it: a question whose answer is probably the former when it comes to regularised environmental requirements. This paper recognises the relevance of regulating environmental standards but argues that not coupled with visions of a sustainable life in the wider sense, environmental design ethics is in danger of being reduced to just another engineering problem to be solved, albeit by new specialists, and not—as some indications might suggest—the overarching design ethics of our time.
S. H. Iradj Moeini, Bartlett, UK
Harvard Citation Guide: Moeini, I. (2012) On Environmentally-Responsive Design: a Début de Siècle meta-ethics, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 13 May 2012, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].