Postby Paul Leech » Mon Jan 31, 2000 9:12 am

At the symposium Colm Toibin launched a confronting but stimulating attack on the uncritical complicity of architects in the milieu in which they operate; he associated Speer 's complicity in the Nazi regime with current architectures complicity in the current unbridled march of capital (which he counterpoised, controversially, with culture).In important respects he is correct. He agreed to participate in this web discussion over the next ten days at my suggestion: I therefore now wish to advance the discussion at once:To do so I make a few points and ask a few questions:

While we were in the symposium yesterday we lost circa 32 species to extinction, forever.

I am told that it takes ten thousand years at any locus (eg Maui where I have just been) for a new species to occur.The GEO 2000 report (Earthscan,1999) prepared by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) through hundreds of universites and research institutes worldwide, spells out in plain language and diagrams the grim impact we are having on all species including our own. At an unprecedented rate we are assymptotically approaching a single species planet: ie endgame. I am astounded by the ongoing complicity of the mainstream of architects in this process: building uses one sixth of potable water: one quarter of timber and nearly half of all fossil fuels consumed in the world: (ECO TECH, Princeton 1999). Architects have a duty of care to monitor and interrogate this process and lead society away from this dangerous current norm. Leadership , from the UN community, Al Gore, the EU Commission 'gets it', but the mammoths and minnions of global capital have too much vested interest to acknowledge this or change to available sustainable options.The new politics referred to by Saskia Sassen is called for with significant inputs from Architects, such as Bill McDonough a UCD graduate and Head of School at Charlottesville Virginia to the US Presidents Commission on Sustainabaility. In Ireland also much valuable work has been done with influence elsewhere, through ERG etc.

The specificity of Dublins present growth (to accept Ole Boumans point at the end), is grossly and residually unsustainable.

Colm Toibin is a fine and justly celeberated writer: I have read and admired his work: I believe he should be in our Senate. His contributions yesterday were important and justified his invitation by the organisers.(Who deserve our thanks in this and other respects). As was repeatedly made clear however yesterday Architecture and Literature are very different arts: the architect who does not 'build' has the same freedom as the writer: architects who 'build' are midwifes of a process where they neither conceived nor bear the outcome: clients conceive and builder/ developers build: Shelley and Dave gave an instructive and honest account of one example. I would invite Colm Toibin to comment, with some empathy, on the media which are available to architects in Dublin now.

The neo rationalism of Dublins architecture of the last few decades coupled with gross and unthought, unfelt, major buildings and proposals raise some very serious questions for architects here at a time of boom. Is urban acupuncture, as Dominick Stevens wittily calls it enough?: are we as a profession complicit and 'making hay while the sun shines'?.

Finally to take up Ole Boumans excellent end -note remarks in his question to me among those to the presenters; I would answer, as an engineer, that Genetic Engineering is yet another 'technical fix' where mankind is led to believe, through Montsanto and the like that we are 'masters of the universe': we are not. Heideggers sense of 'debased techne' and the experience of the outcomes of the technological experience since circa 1900 would challenge this view. (See GEO 2000 report). The unintended affect and effect of such abominations of nature in GM as transgenic mutation are the real hazards of GM. Would you cross a cat with a dog? The precautionary principle of Sustainability theory must be applied responsibly: all GM is not bad including current work: wheat is a genetically modified grass over a time line since the hunter gatherer: Some current GM however is generically different as it is intervening empirically in a gross and sudden manner with something so far not a mature technology according to rigorous Science; the results are being released into the general ecosystem without powers of recall. Many believe that the nuclear industry lessons are being ignored.

As an engineer, I am not, of course, anti technology: sustainable technology can help humankind to safety from the present grave hazards to our survival, addressing social, environmental and economic issues in that order.

I hope architects and others at the symposium will now take up the debate on these, and other, points.
Paul Leech

Postby Paul Clerkin » Fri Feb 04, 2000 5:47 pm

Below is the abstract of Paul Leech's talk at The Citizen and The City


ECO-URBANISM: The Sustainable City?

Paul Leech; Architect Engineer

GAIA ecotecture; DUBLIN

Sustainability is NOT a checklist item: it is an holistic, gestalt shift which informs every choice of a working professional, in both highly adulterated and nuanced ways which characterise all real work.

Ecology is brutal: Nature is not benign: it is red in tooth and claw. We are very much part of that. Sustainability is a working myth, ultimately: a paen in the face of mortality: we and our species shall ultimately become extinct; whether that is terminal or a step-change in evolution is part of the human drama, in which we are all both authors and actors. Ecosophy does not offer a route to immortality of the species: it does offer this gestalt shift which can holistically inform us on our journey. It is in the nature of living things, in an entropic cosmos, to extend life as long as possible: Agenda 21 is about this, for human beings. We must pragmatically function now within, what Heidegger termed "debased techne".

We occupy an increasingly unipolar world, pivoting on the allegedly free market.
The city has always been the locus of most intense interchange. The essence of city is simultaneity: the Web can provide part of this now, but not fulfil the human essence, which resides in sensual media, rather than the virtual. The citizen in the city revels in a highly turbulent system, with many degrees of freedom. The fuzzy logic of constant adaptive and opportunistic behaviour lies at the core of the urban attractor. Web based 'urbanism without cities' may have sustainable aspects but is a recipe for nerdy loneliness and cultural decline.

The patronising and controlling demeanours of conventional sustainable development ethos wont succeed and are out of date: step changes in urban citizen choice for survival will, if ever, come from unfettered choice, actively resisting controls from the subversions of the de-facto oligarchy; economic, political or intellectual/cultural.

The urban citizen acquires a high tolerance for chaos and ambiguity and develops navigating skills to hold a course. Whether this is for survival/evolution of the human species, or not, time will tell.

Collaterally, one may accept and even enjoy our ultimate fate in the scheme of cosmic things. An elegiac view is less concerned about survival than the profound perceived elegance of what we do. This elegance is its own reward and falls within the true domain of architecture.

Dublin is again a living city: it has some cankers which thrive on this life and they may be terminal. The inner dynamic of the last twenty years is something to celebrate: without movement there is no steerage. I have chosen to live and work there.

Dublin is a matrix of villages around a core, the locus of activities / culture relying on special demand from these villages, and the entire country. One may consider all of Ranelagh as an eco- village rather than thirty eco houses in the country side with thirty cars. Decentreing resource-use, while also intensifying generic core activities is a sustainable urban policy.

Architects are flotsam in the chaotic urban process; they can opportunistically navigate; interrogate; comment; monitor and signpost future options but they cannot direct the process. The grit of architecture in the social / environmental oyster occasionally produces a pearl of wonder which has transformative potential: this fine art aspect of Architecture should never be undervalued in the city as nexus (intersection of pragmatism and idealism).

Every dwelling is a miniature city. Ecology; 'oikos logos', is the economy of the house.

Consider afresh, tomorrow, the course of your life .
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