Architecture--design in need of a compass
What role can architecture and architects play in creating more socially and environmentally sustainable cities in the future? This central question of contemporary architecture and urbanism, featured in other recent issues of this journal (with reference to Athens, in Maloutas, CITY 7(2), for example), is here addressed by Ian Ritchie, whose architectural practice is based in London. Ritchie begins by characterising the status quo, where western capitalism 'denies the natural environment' by exploiting it, and keeps the poor in poverty, causing him to look critically at the idea of 'progress' itself, and the role of architects and architecture in achieving it. Dramatic changes in attitude and practice are required if architecture is to become more than a product to be consumed, in a world of 'overconsumption', the author argues. For Ritchie, the architects' responsibilities lie in achieving a balance in the detail of their work between 'economy,' 'efficiency' and 'ésthetique'; a balance that should lead to a less demoralising built environment than the one in which many currently live. This method of designing involves attention to sometimes hidden detail. 'If we do not get our cities right at the micro-level we could well end up with a cumulative effect upon our society far worse than any environmental disaster caused by super-bugs, toxins or terrorists,' warns Ritchie, who develops his argument by elaborating some of the processes and techniques through which his own practice works.
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