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Towards a post-natural (living) architecture

Part 1 Dissertation 2002
Andrew Rainford
Manchester School of Architecture Manchester | UK
The dissertation was initially conceived as an exploration of contemporary sustainable architecture. However, as the investigation progressed, it became apparent that no matter which philosophical or material approach to architectural sustainability was examined, be it Cornucopian or Deep Ecologist, a ‘natural’ analogy had invariably been applied to the resulting sustainable building.

I decided to question the validity of the use of this ‘natural’ analogy, as an appropriate model for sustainable architecture in our synthetic mechanised world. The following research into the concept of ‘Nature’ revealed that no explicit definition for the term ‘natural’ exists, and that neither of the two possible interpretations which emerged, provided a suitable analogy for sustainable architecture. Therefore, I returned to the concept of sustainability and determined that life on Earth, having existed in a ‘closed materials system’ for the last 3.3 billion years, would provide the ultimate model for a truly sustainable architecture.

The subsequent investigation into life on Earth found that a complementary duality of life exists, that of the individual organism and the collective planet. It was found that although these two forms of life do exhibit numerous distinctive characteristics, they also share much commonality, namely their order, responsiveness, separation, use of energy and ability to maintain homeostasis. Having been identified, these defining characteristics were then translated into architectural form, with the use of contemporary building technology, to create a new ‘living’ model of architectural sustainability more relevant to the twenty-first century.

The new ‘living’ model of sustainability was then compared with two existing exemplars of sustainable architecture. This analysis revealed that the buildings did exhibit many of the characteristics of a ‘living’ building, although in some instances these were not exploited to their full potential. However, on the whole, the ‘living’ model proved to be an excellent framework for the design of sustainable architecture in the future.

Andrew Rainford

This is a quite superb dissertation: well thought out; well illustrated; deep in content; with a wide range of sources. It is proabably the best I have read in the last ten years.

Andrew started the work with a thesis – that sustainable architecture should be a natural architecture taking its cues from nature. However his investigations into the definition of the term ‘natural’ led him to realise that there was no longer anything ‘natural’: that all things are ‘artifacts’ thus affected by man.

He then turned his attentions to a more appropriate analogy for sustainability – that the only thing that is sustainable is not nature but life (having been around for nearly 4 billion years). From this thesis he starts defining life – both in an individual sense and a collective sense.

From these biological and ecological definitions, a model for a living building emerges which he then tests on some sustainable precedent from deep ecologist architects and ‘cornucopian’ high-tech architects – he finds them both lacking in key factors and shows them not to be ‘living’ and thus not sustainable.

In the penultimate chapter, he sets out some exemplar buildings that exhibit ‘living’ tendencies and from an analysis of these, refines his living building model.

The work is of a very high standard throughout. The model could be developed further – there is no doubt of that, but the work reads better than most transfer theses from M.Phil to PhD!! I hope he decides to continue the work when he completes his degree.

In addition to the intellectual tour de force, the dissertation is well-written and fantastically illustrated with appropriate images and figures which tie in with the text and aid understanding on every page. The referencing is thorough too. A quite brilliant piece of work that I keep returning to again and again.

Greg Keeffe Bioclimatic Architecture Labs
Manchester School of Architecture.

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