Text: Beatriz Ramo – STAR strategies + architecture
Illustrations: STAR strategies + architecture, 2011
This article was published in zeppelin magazin number 98.
A critical view on the difference between a true sustainability and the „green” demagogy in architecture.
Sustainability currently shares many qualities with God; supreme concept, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; creator and judge, protector, and (...) saviour of the universe and the humanity. And, like God, it has millions of believers. Since we humans are relatively simpleminded and suspicious and need evidence before belief can become conviction, Green has come to represent sustainability; has become its incarnation in the human world. But sustainability, like God, might not have a form, nor a colour…
The word Sustainability has been raped, abused, and insulted by architects, politicians, advertisers … in essence, by everybody. The musical harmony in the perfect trio – the social, the environmental, and the economic - is eclipsed by a simplistic solo performance of the environmental, entitled the Green.
In a desperate attempt to give shape to an all-encompassing ideology the Green proves to work as the quickest and easiest representation of sustainability. The Green is the only symbol able to keep pace with today’s lack of patience and hunger for images; a Lady Gaga-Sustainability: effective, noticeable, creative, sensationalist. In a persistent effort to become the allegory of Sustainability, Green has been emancipated as its caricature.
The simplification of the initial idea is so extreme that Green does not even need to be nature, or natural, it may just as well be plastic and painted. Look around… you’ll see a green facade, green embellishments, walls painted green, a green McDonald’s sign, a green website, a green papier-mâché shop window; the Green City is here.
If the Iconic buildings simply needed to be iconic, the Green buildings simply need to be green. The situation could not get more superficial: Green as a function. Green allows sustainability to be bought per sqm, or to be painted on, or glued on. Sustainability is a Photoshop filter in CS6: Ctrl+Green.
Similar to the Icons, the Green is also providing identity, generic identity.
Although the thought initially came with the best of intentions, as every good idea these days, it needed to be simplified by a factor of a hundred to be stripped of any meaning in order to be successfully commercialized. Only then could it be digested by the masses. Somehow it looks very democratic… Just as a fake Prada bag allows every woman to feel the sensation of Prada and carry its status.
The repeated-until-it-hurts pretext that at least people are aware of sustainability had an effect; but the attention was diverted from the main concern. People are more likely to buy Green products, juries in competitions are delighted by Green epic stories, and politicians know that playing the Green card is always safe; impeccable demagogy.
If all the visions for city design and all the architecture competitions won with the powers of Green were realized the city would be turned into a sophisticated version of the current Chernobyl Alienation Zone (See Pripyat in spring).
Green walls are being commercialized as interior space dividers too. They are made of Norwegian reindeer moss (the stuff for the trees in model train sets) as a huge cemetery of nature, with excellent natural acoustics. These dust collectors can be produced in 20 different colours; a white Green Wall, a red Green Wall, a violet Green Wall, to match with the other decorations.
Modernism, Postmodernism, Deconstructivism… We have now definitely entered Sustainabilism. Unlike in previous movements every architect can be a Sustainabilist: whether avant-garde, commercial, young, established… It can be even combined with other styles: Eco-Deconstructivism, Green Postmodernism… It is the democratic style. Architectural magazines and commercial brochures found a common language: the Green. Green is also the point on which the architect, the client, the developer, the politician, and the user agree. It is fantastic. Green flattens out the differences; it is the saviour of the Tower of Babel; we will finally reach the Heavens. For the first time ever we have a genuine International Style; from Madrid to Copenhagen, to Dallas, to Istanbul. The Green is so superior that it works everywhere; it is the wining style, the global victor – though this could make it terribly unsustainable. Unlike other styles – imagine an entire city planned on Deconstructivism – it is possible to have an entire city built on Green. It can be implemented everywhere and on every scale; a skyscraper or a small private house, even an interior space – all is possible. It can accommodate any taste: Green can be applied and treated as a hairstyle: long and fluffy, thick and compact, partly shaved creating ornaments.
Green buildings can be Ducks or Decorated sheds and there are some interesting cases of being both at the same time: the Decorated Ducks.
Green should be added as the sixth principle to Le Corbusier’s five points, and as the fourth quality to Vitruvius’ triad: Venustas, Utilitas, Firmitas and Sustinebilitas
“The built … product of Sustainability is not sustainable architecture but Green. Green is what remains after Sustainability has run its course or, more precisely, what coagulates while Sustainability is in progress, its fallout… ”
Green is the new Black.
Green works as faith. The Catholic Church will need to add Saint Green to its Roman Calendar. Saint Green will watch over the sustainable architects, and will guide them in the green direction. If we pray to him every day Saint Green will compensate our veneration: politicians obtain more votes, architects win more competitions, and companies sell more products…
Green works in mysterious ways…Architects who are not really sustainable call themselves Green, while the architects that seriously care don’t like to be called Green.
Oh Lord, blessed be the Daltonics who will see more green than others… and help those who see Red where there is Green.
Green works as confession. The guiltier we feel, the greener we try. The green-looking is usually indirectly proportional to its sustainability achievements. Green has the capacity of reducing all that matters to one single problem, and one single solution: Green. Green is able to absolve all our sins.
Green is double-miraculous. As if trying to heal cancer with aspirins, Green is the phenomenal formula that turns sustainable everything that it touches. It can also hide graceless designs. “When all candles be out, all cats be gray”. Ugly Green buildings are more readily accepted than ugly buildings.
Green is able to enlighten us retroactively. We architects rewrite our full history according to sustainability; what we did once with common sense, we now brand as sustainable; back then, we were already unconsciously under the influence of Green…as real visionaries.
But the Green also hides a perverse dimension… As in a David Lynch movie; everything appears to be calm and harmonious but there is something disturbing… rotting… The Green is the common lie, the secret consensus, the perfect crime; everybody knows that it cannot be that good, that it cannot be that easy, but why bother? It sells, and there is enough Green for everybody. A new kind of (friendly) intimidation: Green terrorism.
Green suffers from split personalities; Green gurus, Green followers, Green saviours.... preaching contradictory statements. But this seems not to be a problem, as long as it is Green, because everybody likes – has to like – Green. If not, he is considered a horrible human being. The exponential need for public approval makes Green the instrument par excellence. Green: I Like.
The Microsoft dictionary for Word in Spanish offers the following synonyms for Green: Obscene, indecent, improper, dishonest, free, and gross. In English, apart from those referring to the colour, it offers: immature and inexpert.
Here we are now, entertainers.
The relation between some architects and Green reminds us of the “discovery” of the Americas, not only was the “New World” always there; but these architects will remain as happily mistaken as Christopher Columbus was… convinced that he had landed in the East Indies.
A long time ago in a not so faraway land, a deep economic crisis and a need for identity accelerated the creation of the Green City. In the Green City all companies changed their logos to Green or to vegetable motives. They only provided green products and eco-friendly services. Its inhabitants lived in healthy competition with one another to be the greenest of them all. In the Green City, Nuclear Power Plants were eco-friendly. Black and white movies were green too. In the Green City the powers of Green were so strong that they could alleviate the shame of the past: concentration camps, Berlin walls…, any moment of history could become sustainable retroactively. Green acquired confessional status and could absolve any sins. In the Green City military uniforms were the ultimate fashion, the Hulk was a superhero, and Chernobyl’s Zone the most booked green holiday destination. Architects were overexcited in their use of the Green. Facades, roofs, partition walls… everything that could be clad, was clad by Green. But behind the scenes the Green Bubble was growing out of control… Nobody dared to mention it and in an attack of greed, fearing the end of this cash cow, they started using Green psychotically. The Green City turned into a seemingly boundless golf course. The confusion was colossal and in a Saturnial act the Green City started devouring its inhabitants. But then, and only at that point, a second Age of Enlightenment began to flourish… The surviving inhabitants slowly awakened and did no longer need to see the Green to believe in
Sustainability – as they did not need to see the pillars to believe in structural stability – and the Green City began to fade away slowly…The Green mucus was cleaned away, the Green parties were obsolete and McDonald’s became red again.
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, very Green Hairy Monsters.
Credits & info
Beatriz Ramo is an architect and urban planner from Spain. She lives in Rotterdam where she founded STAR strategies + architecture in 2006. STAR is a practice dealing with architecture in all its forms; it achieved an international presence by winning several architectural prizes and urban development competitions in China, Lebanon, Iceland, the Netherlands, and Spain where it is currently developing a project in Elche in a protected area declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Beatriz Ramo is a contributing editor at MONU magazine. Before founding STAR, she worked at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) in Rotterdam.