First Point - Architecture pre-existed the use of cheap fossil fuels, but it was a little different then.
Secondly – There are many definitions of an Architect, but one that is useful to the discussion about Peak Oil and resource scarcity is Architects as “concretisers of culture”. Just as bacteria are instrumental in turning carbon rich algal deposits into fossil fuels, Architects are instrumental in fossilising the agendas of those with resources at their disposal.
On the face of it, the advent of
Not all of this will be a bad thing. Post-modern deconstruction will be seen as the last gasp of bankrupt ideologues who had no idea what times they were living in. Their architecture is destined to moulder and become an enigma for post-oil generations to marvel at. Decadent lifestyle pornography which architects have been totally complicit with over the past decade is likely to be greatly resented by those who cannot afford basic housing and for their owners will be expensive to maintain and heat. Many examples of what is currently called sustainable design will be seen to be sustainable in name only.
I suspect that there will be a re-evaluation of what architecture is actually about and that the future will have both opportunities and threats. To get a handle on this I have done some armchair analysis to examine the kinds of issues that are likely to raise their heads. I think there will be food for thought for councillors as well as architects.
So how will the advent of Peak Oil work through our world?
It will not be “Business as Usual”
The first obvious affect of reduced volumes/increased demands will be expensive energy. This has started happening. The second affect will be patchy supplies of fuel, which will be equivalent to a chronic heart failure. See below a chart of some of the trends that seem fairly predictable from this side of the decline, but there are sure to be many more:In addition to their knowledge of building design and procurement Architects have some significant skill-sets that are likely to prove valuable:
The ability to see/imagine a project at many different levels of scale consequtively over both space and time.
The ability to generate multiple solutions and to evaluate them for the best fit to the circumstances and situation.
The ability to act as a communication hub in which there are many different players all with interests at stake.
The ability to marry analytical and aesthetic judgements in the best interests of the project – The Art of Compromise.
The ability to think through and resolve complex staging issues arising from the implementation of implementing change on existing situations.
The ability to make decisions under conditions of stress and make fair-ish judgement calls in real time. – Also the ability to reverse those decisions when they are found to be wrong.
The ability to generally maintain the appearance of calm in the face of unbelievable bureaucratic frustration.
These skills are not acquired quickly or easily and are the intangible values upon which our reputation and utility rests. These skills are likely to be in demand during any period of significant change, and it will be interesting to see how well we are able to market our skills and perhaps diversify the role of Architect.
So what should Architects do? Some suggestions to start a discussion:
- design with the future in mind
- understand the times we are living in
- observe the forces in play
- re-think people’s actual needs
- re-think level’s of Architectural services
- advocate long term planning and declaim dubious projects including past ones
- acquire tools to demonstrate value for money
- re-think material use
- re-think design – Keep It Simple Sustainable & Sensible
- passive solutions better/cheaper than fallible active systems.The great project over the next decades will be to help bring our lumbering hubristic civilization down to a survivable landing. This will involve different mindsets and value-sets from the ones that have held sway and become accustomed to working with. It will not be business as usual but business for the shrewdest, and all business involving resources will be carried out under the greatest scrutiny. The new frugality will focus on basic needs and will view as contemptible profligate waste the kind we currently experience as normal. The future is a mixed. There will be opportunities for both Chaos and Community. If we don’t lead or assist those who do lead by providing workable solutions, the forces of chaos will establish themselves by default, and the opportunities for community will dwindle.