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Is There a New Style of Ecological Architecture Emerging?

Part 1 Dissertation 1998
Emma Cain
University of Plymouth | UK
In 1973, with the beginning of the energy crisis, the first wave of thought focused on searching for simpler environmental solutions for buildings. Architects and engineers began discussing how building and design concepts could be modified to create buildings more in tune with environmental parameters. This marked the beginning of focusing on achieving ecological designs within the built environment.
With concerns for green issues now widespread, it is hard for architects and the general public to put the various architectural attempts into context. Some designers choose to retreat from mass production and high technology, in favour of a sophisticated, knowing primitivism, while others view the mass industrial and scientific techniques which have contributed to the ecological crisis as crucial to its solution. Some of this concerned effort is constructional, some aesthetic, both symbolic of green values and issues. The changing view of nature and the organic tradition have been obscured by developing enthusiasm for technology and future progresses.
Both hi-tech buildings and those of natural and organic forms are being labelled 'ecological'. Is this an appropriate label for both building types, despite the fact that they approach environmental problems differently? Is 'ecological', perhaps, a misnomer, when it describes a building which relies on technology to solve problems of energy consumption? Is it true that technology offers the ideal solution to achieving an environmentally responsive architecture, as many architects have suggested?

It appears that there is a new ideal for ecological architecture being established among architects who believe that a more natural and holistic approach to design is required. This dissertation addresses issues of ecological architecture and establishes a definition of ecology within buildings. It suggests that this new emphasis on working with the environment may have instigated a new methodology for a truly natural, ecological architecture.
Gray, V. & Macrae, A. (1976), Mud, Space and Spirit, Capra Press, Santa Barbara.
Lloyd Wright, F. (1963), The Natural House, Mentor Books, New York
Vale, B. & R. (1991), Green Architecture: Design For A Sustainable Future. Thames and Hudson Ltd, London
D. O. E. (1996), Sustainable Settlements and Shelter, HMSO
Emma Cain

Emma Cain's dissertation, entitled Is There a New Style of Ecological Architecture Emerging?, has been nominated because of its serious attempt to explore and discuss an important contemporary development in architecture, to relate this development to a wide range of traditional and recent building examples, and to draw conclusions which are of value to the student and her colleagues in the Sustainability Design Studio of which she is a Fourth Year member.
The dissertation reviews a wide range from vernacular, organic, hi-tech, bioclimatic and low-technology architecture. Many of these examples have been associated with claims of ecological character of relevance. These claims are explored and discussed, and the dissertation indicates the difficulties where the operation of many of these examples is compared to scientific definitions drawn from the discipline of Ecology itself. The student has made a good attempt at understanding and setting out in a clear framework the key principles from the discipline of Ecology which she considers relevant to the development of architecture. She has tried to utilise these in the analysis and comparison of the differing approaches within current architectural practice, and to draw from this some problems and opportunities which exist within alternative thematic movements in the field of 'green architecture', indicating a very thorough understanding of the scope of developments within this field.

The student has made reference to a wide range of relevant sources in the development of her substantial study, and is meticulous in referencing these sources throughout.

However, the dissertation has also a clear 'voice' which relates these wider debates to the student's own experience and values, and strives to find a resolution which will have a relevance to her own progression as a designer.
The conclusions, though brief, draw distinctions between what she regards as the key classifications within which strategies for decision making in design may be drawn.
The dissertation is very well written, clearly structured and thoroughly referenced. The illustrations are appropriate and well integrated with the text, and, in common with all Ms Cain's work, the dissertation is beautifully presented.

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