Sustainability through passion – or why architects can still do it best

In the post-oil era just now beginning, our social challenge consists of restructuring our way of life and building it on the foundation of sustainability.

But how is sustainability to be defined with respect to architecture?

Since 2008 it has been possible to assess and certify the sustainability of buildings in Germany by using a system developed by the DGNB (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Nachhaltiges Bauen/German Association for Sustainable Building). By using pre-determined checklists, the ecological, economical, socio-cultural / functional and technical qualities of a building are evaluated by a qualified auditor and given a score using a point system. Depending on the point total, the building is given a rating of bronze, silver or gold.

The evaluation of these objective, ‘hard’, and measurable factors, such as energy usage, focuses attention on resource utilization. Its use in the area of sustainable development is indisputable.

But how does it relate to subjective, ‘soft’ factors, such as the unique location of the Sydney Opera House, the lightness of the Munich Olympic Stadium or the practicality of the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex? Can the boldness of the Cologne cathedral be judged on a scale from 1 to 10? Are there bonus points for the delicate handling of architectural history and materials in the reconstruction of the Neues Museum in Berlin? Although these characteristics are visible to all, they cannot be quantitatively evaluated.

But buildings beyond the well-known monuments and high-profile projects also have qualities which are difficult to evaluate with a ready-made rating scheme, for example, proportionality in relation to surrounding structures, the feel of a brick façade or the aesthetics of the ornate façade of a Gründerzeit building.

Even an uninspiring, air-tight insulated cube with a polished granite floor can receive its share of certificates. However, if it only evokes emotionless apathy, sooner or later its user will neglect it, give up on it and tear it down.

When a user identifies with his architecture, loves it and respects it, because its unmistakable character makes a unique and area-defining statement, he will be eager to preserve it for generations and actively support its maintenance. Only in this way can sustainability be ensured in the long run.

It is therefore unlikely that someone from Munich would get worked up over the planned demolition of the his main train station and the rebuilding of a new structure in its place, while someone from Stuttgart would protest the pending partial demolition of his historically protected main train station for weeks.

Sustainability and building quality should not be defined exclusively as resource-conserving construction. This is only one of many considerations, such as cost-effectiveness, fireproofing or soundproofing, which must be taken into account during planning and construction. On the other hand, the quality of a building is principally defined by its design.

With the help of a checklist, the quality of a mass-produced product can be optimized. However, as a rule, buildings are customizations tailored to the location, the user and his requirements. They are developed in dialogue. That is the philosophy of people like the team at spine architects, who pursue their profession with passion, idealism and persistence.

The premise of conserving resources in all areas of life goes without saying. For a good design you should hire an architect.

About spine architects
The spine architects architectural firm was founded in 2002 by J’orn Hadzik, Jan Löhrs and Neil Winstanley. The three architects previously worked in renowned international architectural firms. No matter the nature of the project – exterior or interior, new construction or restoration, large or small, low or high budget – spine architects develop customized solutions in close consultation with the client and all the firms and partners participating in the project.