Design Sustainability and Green Communities, Richard S. Levine

CSC Design Studio Principal Architect & Professor of Kentucky University

Ahmad Zohadi:

How would you define in your own words ‘sustainability’?

Richard S. Levine:

“Sustainability is a local, informed, participatory, balance-seeking process operating within a Sustainable Area Budget (SAB), exporting no harmful imbalances beyond its territory or into the future, thus opening the spaces of opportunity and possibility.” This is the widely accepted the operational definition of sustainability formulated by the Center for Sustainable Cities and Oikodrom. It is perhaps the only existing operational definition of sustainability and as such, its implications need to be carefully studied. Of particular note is the Sustainable Area Budget concept which, by setting a land and resource budget, turns the sustainability question from a requirement for renewable energy and a green checklist, to an actual design problem embedded in economics and societal engagement. An explication of this sustainability definition may be found on the CSC website (see below.)

Should sustainability be controlled by government / global legislation or should it rely solely on architects’ ethics and why? Sustainability demands participation on all levels of human endeavor – from government to industry to society’s institutions and to individual citizen-stakeholders. Architect’s norms of ethics are not sufficiently comprehensive to account for the demands and possibilities of sustainability – still architects have a pivotal role to play.

Can sustainability be compatible with experimental / progressive / innovative design and why?

Architects are at their best when they are dealing with complex problems. Architects are at their worst when they think they do not have sufficient problems worthy of their attention. That is when they contrive their own problems and respond to those artificial problems in bizarre and unwholesome ways. Sustainability is the overarching problem of the future. Because it is a new and complex problem – a real problem – that embraces the survival and transformation of our culture, it will be the very source of virtually all experimental / progressive / innovative design.

Will you decline a commission if your clients declare that they are not interested and they will not pay any additional cost to your sustainable design and why?

I accept all commissions where I am able to respect my client’s values and needs.

It is astonishing that in the last five years or so, almost everybody claims to be ‘sustainable’. Do you think that the world is really now so much more sustainable and why?

The world is far less sustainable than it was five years ago. The term “sustainability” is almost universally misused. The widespread sustainability claims are really for things that are merely “greenish,” or otherwise make marginal contributions to reduce some aspect of man’s load on the environment. This is hardly sustainability. Sustainability has a very specific meaning (see above), and it has no effective meaning at the scale of buildings or architecture. There is no “sustainable architecture.” There can be “Sustainability Oriented Architecture,” or Sustainability Driven Architecture,” which means that the architecture is sufficiently well designed that it could become part of a larger sustainable city-region regime if one were to exist. The sustainable city-region is the smallest scale at which sustainability can exist. Within the sustainable city-region are many buildings, systems, and processes that are “sustainability driven,” within the design and governance processes through which the sustainable city is managed.

Describe your ideal sustainable design.

We look for lessons from older cultures to demonstrate examples of what we have called “proto-sustainable” city-regions. This refers to forms of urban metabolism where balances have been developed (in an energy and material flow sense) between the living patterns of town and countryside and the limits of the natural environment to support that way of life. There are no examples of urban sustainability on the planet today. The Center for Sustainable Cities has prepared designs, proposals and processes for sustainable city-regions – so far unbuilt – in places as diverse as Italy, Austria, China, Korea, and the U.S. (see our website: We have developed families of urban forms that we call “the Sustainable City-as-a-Hill” or the “Sustainable Urban Implantation,” which are compact, fully pedestrian city-regions that are uniquely well suited to support sustainability processes. Below is an image of such a sustainable city-region for Korea designed as a Sustainable Urban Implantation (details on website).

© Published by 2A Magazine, Issue 11

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