Via Edwin Gardner, who makes the great Prss Release, comes a link to Panayiota Pyla’s "Counter-History of Sustainability," an essay for Volume, a cautionary account of sustainability in architecture, and none too soon.* Panayiota, like me, is a student of Mark Jarzombek’s, and she does a great job picking apart the almost theological faith that some architects have in sustainability. For another perspective, see this interview with James Lovelock, the inventor of the Gaia hypothesis. If Lovelock is right (and his points of view have often been controversial), the rhetoric of sustainability in architecture may be more a performative style**, about as useful as shopping at Whole Foods is. Lovelock would probably suggest that we should stop building all but nonessential projects now and learn to live with what we have. In sum, however, Pyla is right on the money with her sharp critique of sustainability. Let’s not let this turn into a new architectural religion.
*One thing to point out for the reader: as the Network Culture project suggests, I disagree with her statement "Always Beware of Metanarratives," but I would agree that we should always beware of metanarratives with an ax to grind. If the network culture project is a metanarrative, it has no telos behind it. To me that’s the distinction. We’ve lost track of our ability to create historical meaning in part because historians, paralyzed by fear of metanarratives, have abandoned macroscale attempts to produce meaning.
**How’s that for a neologism? A performative style would be a fashion for a way of doing things, replacing a fashion for form. Thus the dominnant forms of architectural design today: diagramming, parametric modeling, and sustainability would be performative styles. Or styles of performance perhaps?