It is certainly a fact that the world venture with the battle of sustainability in diversified definitions. To grab the backbone of sustainability, the expositions of the diverse sustainable architectural approaches is seen through, and my personal opinion to sustainable architecture is exposed.

Coming from the industrialisation, a time with more progress than conscience, a tsunami of guilt suddenly washed up a panic-struck optic on our world when the Brundtland Report was published in 1987. Surely the world had seen hints insinuating the situation with the oil crisis in ’73 and ’79, and probably also with the Chernobyl incident in ’86, but the report declared the first academic proof of the circumstances we brought onto ourselves. This rather serious pickle gave birth to the expression sustainability. An expression put onto earth with the intention of saving the world and with the grandeur of the human mind this seemed indulging to find the key answer to, and so it has been tried in multiple ways throughout history. (Hansen 2013: 5)

When speaking about sustainability, the different theories seem to come to an agreement about the overall perception of sustainable architecture. The definition is stretching over four areas – the social, the environmental, the economic and the climatic sustainability. Whilst each area works with different optics, it is the symbiosis that constitutes the fifth element, namely sustainability.
(Hansen 2013: 3) (Thiis 2013)

With the general definition in mind, and the realisation of sustainability being an extensive substance, my definition of sustainable architecture is chased more in-depth with the point of departure in the Nordic understanding. First of all, in the Nordic the home is a feature imprinted in everything. We are connected to the precise place we live in and therefore the connection to the site in a Nordic context is crucial. (Kristensen et al. 2012)

If we look at how the types of sustainability has evolved throughout the last half-century, the differences lie very much in this connection to the site. The first response to the industrialisation, and the need to improve the architecture, was the Self-sufficient architecture. Lead by a pioneer Sir Richard Buckminster Fuller, the prediction of the need to stop wasting the resources of the world was giving long before the rest of the world woke up and realised the situation. Working intensively with rethinking the functionality, the architecture was independent and self-reliant, which gave an almost futuristic aesthetic expression to it. (Steele 2005, Baldwin 1996, Krausse and Lichtenstein 1999)

With the predilection of having self-reliant societies, the architecture from my point of view has the tendency to be a response to the environment, but not having any particular connection to the specific context within it is situated. Even though it has the sympathetic intention of creating minor societies that are self-reliant it lacks the connection the site. This is of course seen as a potential from the pioneers point of view, the ability to evolve concepts that can be spread everywhere in the world.

The diametric dimension of self-sufficient architecture is found in the ecological architecture. Originating from the 1960’s it dealt with the relationships between the occupants and their surroundings. Focus was more on the total impact on the environment, meaning that it was not only a way of building, but also a way of living. Attracting self-builders, the type evolved into very low-tech solutions, with renewable energy and materials. (Steele 2005)

I see this all-important relation to the surroundings as crucial for the connection to the site, and the local context suddenly not only determines but also contributes to the sustainable solutions utilised. But even though this was a reality fifty years ago, it is an antipole to the urban dense city, which is the future way of living. (City mayors 2012)

This is where green architecture is trying to be sustainable in a larger scale. Attempting to contain the architecture into more controlled parameters, the green architecture, has focus on environmental preservation and protection, where the architecture directly adopts the nature into the sustainable solutions. (Wines 2000, Steele 2005, Jodidio 2009)

I see the intention of adopting the nature into the sustainable solutions, as easily implemented in the dense city. Though it also presuppose that the sustainable is directly linked with greenery. This way of introducing sustainability as the face of green seems seductive, but it lacks the fact that sustainability is more than nature. There also seem to be a field of friction of green in the vertical direction both in technical and perceptual terms.

In a similar manor, the bioclimatic architecture finds the solution in the climate. By working with and not against the nature, in a site-specific manor, the architecture addresses the fact of having different climatic zones. (Olgyay 1963)

This does in my optic resolve the connection to the site in terms of the climate, but still neglects the social aspects of the sustainable architecture, and this must be, by all reasons, the first reason of all architecture. While it is the people, us that in a very intuitive manor choose the places we like to be situated within, the social innovation of the sustainable architecture must be background noise in every decision. Taking point of departure in the social innovation, the connection to the site can’t be neglected, as the site, the way it is used and the occupants constitute the backbone of the social relations, which in the end defines the place.


All fields of sustainable architecture battles with their own areas of weakness, but the main challenge is the occupants. (Bruunsgaard 2013)
As I see it, the crack in the ice is becoming bigger, growing every time the demands for sustainability are raised. Lowering the total energy impact, the static envelope of architecture has adapted itself to actually contain itself within the aim. This has brought the static envelope of architecture to a gaping abyss, where optimisation is impossible within a static dimension. If we look at architecture, the outside, the environment is dynamic, and inside, the occupants are dynamic – but the residual adaptor, the architectural envelope, is maintaining static. This points out the crack in the ice of sustainability that needs to be solved. Actually, the adapting to the given conditions is not a thing rare to us. The nature has solved the equation, over billions of years of evolution – and we need to do this in hyper speed. (Foged 2013)

Down the hallway I do see sparks of light, that start to realise what is right in front of us. Abandoning the intention of making everything having zero impact on the environment, the solution reveals itself by switching optics from micro to macro. Having the energy balance on a bigger scale, where different initiatives even out each other, the system in my eyes start to understand that the importance of sustainability lies within the acceptance of loss, and the innovation of potentials. While letting initiatives do what they potentially are good at, the sustainability reveals itself. A glorious example of this lies within the simple brickwork in the University of Virginia. To minimize the usage of material, the simple gesture of introducing a serpentine shape to the walls, allowed it to be slender and material saving, and at the same time introduced social advantages of pockets, which invites for stay. (Thiis 2013) In spite of the simplicity of the solution, this does from my point of view outshines even the most high-tech, orientation-changing, energy-producing initiatives. Just by letting something do what it is good at. (Petersen 2013)


Serpentine walls – letting potentials do what they area meant to


To manage this in the hyper speed of today, the process of architecture needs to be holistic. The fact that we are moving from a more experience based design process, to a knowledge and information based calls for the integrated design, where no potential is overlooked, and everything is linked together.


The potpourri of sustainable architectural approaches calls for a process, which enhances the holistic picture of sustainability. As I understand that the importance of sustainability lies within the acceptance of loss, and the innovation of potentials, the keystone for social innovation is placed, and the point of departure of sustainable architecture is ensured.




Hansen, Hanne Tine Ring. 2013. Lecture 2: Methodological approaches to sustainable architecture found in theory. Architectural Concepts in integrated design, Aalborg University, AD:MT

Hansen, Hanne Tine Ring. 2013. Lecture 3: Methodological approaches to sustainable architecture found in practice. Architectural Concepts in integrated design, Aalborg University, AD:MT

Thiis, Lars Juel. 2013. Lecture 4: A multifunctional architectural environment. Architectural Concepts in integrated design, Aalborg University, AD:MT

Bruunsgaard, Camilla. 2013. Lecture 9: Inhabitants in Low Energy Housing. Architectural Concepts in integrated design, Aalborg University, AD:MT

Petersen, Mads Dines. 2013. Lecture 11: Space, Environment and architecture. Architectural Concepts in integrated design, Aalborg University, AD:MT

Foged, Isak Worre. 2013. Lecture 14: Environmental Tectonics. Architectural Concepts in integrated design, Aalborg University, AD:MT


United Nations. 1987. Brundtland Report – Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development –

Our Common Future. Oxford University Press

Steele, James. 2005. Ecological architecture: A Critical History. London: Thames & Hudson.

Baldwin. 1996. Bucky Works – Buckminster Fullers Ideas for Today. USA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Krausse, J. and Claude Lichtenstein. 1999. Your Private Sky ‐ R. Buckminster Fuller. USA: Lars Müller Publishers

Wines, James. 2000. Green Architecture. Köln: Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH Jodidio, Philip. 2009. Green Architecture Now!. Cologne: Taschen GmbH

Olgyay, Victor. 1963. Design with Climate – a bioclimatic approach to architectural regionalism. USA: Princeton University Press

Hawkes D. and Wayne Forster. 2002. Architecture, Engineering and Environment. London:Laurence King Publishing

Schnittich C. 2003. In Detail – Solar Architecture. Basel: Germany and Birkhauser – Publishers for Architecture Kristensen, Morten, Esben Clausen Nørgaard, Christina Thomsen, Line Løvås, Elias Melvin Christiansen.

2012. “Hatlehol Church” MSc1 diss., Aalborg University.


City mayors. 2012. Urban population growth etween 1950 and 2030.


M.B. Kristensen

Stud.polyt MSc2. Architecture & Design, Aalborg University, DK