What is a sustainable building? A sustainable built environment? A sustainable city? The poor word ‘sustainable’ has been much abused, to a point where, for some, it has lost much of its meaning and relevance. Yet it remains a powerful concept, and a powerful lens for framing the debates as to what it actually means. Rotor are a Norwegian organisation who focus on sustainability in architecture. In 2013 they curated an exhibition for the Oslo Architecture Triennale called ‘Behind the Green Door: architecture and the desire for sustainability’. This book is a capturing and a celebration of that exhibition.
For the book, the subtitle is changed to ‘A Critical Look at Sustainable Architecture through 600 Objects’. The objects themselves range from newspaper clippings to case studies of buildings, to toys and photos. The aim is to use each object to provoke a discussion as to what this actually means in relation to sustainability. To aid this, a range of people were invited to give feedback on some of the objects, so that alongside the objects is a conversation about how things could be improved, discarded, celebrated.
It reminds me of the brilliant ‘Sorry, Out of Gas’ which was the catalogue of an exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture looking at how architecture responded to the oil crisis of the 1970s. Like ‘Sorry, Out of Gas’, we have as exhibits old books on solar architecture from the 1970s, early experiments in natural building and other fascinating relics from that febrile period in the 1970s where a low carbon society was trialled and tested.
Transition makes an appearance here, with an early Totnes Pound, news clippings and leaflets being used to show what it can contribute. ‘Behind the Green Door’ is fabulously eclectic, and is rich in objects that will challenge (or reaffirm!) what sustainability means for you in relation to how the world around us is built. I find myself again and again picking it up to dip into it, and each time finding new and thought-provoking things. Highly recommended.
You can order a copy of ‘Behind the Green Door’ here.