Since the industrial revolution, our development criteria have been economic and technical. The crisis of modernism at the end of the 1960s, crystallised in France by the rejection of the big housing estates, raised social issues: the inhabitants wanted to participate in the design of their environment. Later, the oil crisis of the 1970s establishd a direct link between our society’s economic development and natural resources, the environment. Today, globalisation, global warming and the depletion of natural resources have made us aware of our local production capacities and of ways to minimise our impact on ecosystems that we know to be fragile. These realisations gave rise to sustainable development: the goal of lasting development through a new perception of our resources.
Penser global, agir local, Jacques Ellul (1912-1994)
In the anthropocene age, energy self-sufficiency, short food supply chains, bio-sourced materials and ecological corridors are no longer ideals but imperatives. Today’s buildings must produce energy, recover and recycle water, protect biodiversity. They must be simultaneously easy to live in, practical and comfortable. Urban design needs to consider the established city and its periurban mantle as fragile ecosystems to be preserved.
Beyond technical change, European societies aspire to new practices that offer fertile ground for sustainable architecture. Such practices are emerging or reemerging. Associations of consumers tied to a local producer, and urban farming movements, reflect the desire for short food supply chains. Social networks support the sharing of resources, which save money and generate a sense of community. With the virtual economy, the character of work has changed: co-working or teleworking are transforming our conceptions of office and home.
Environmental necessities and the desire for new lifestyles together offer 21st-century architecture and urban design a unique opportunity to resolve a contradiction inherent to artefacts: the reconciliation of nature and artifice.