Energy is a consumption that is killing us by degrees. Its production, usage and waste have long been a threat to the natural world and as a commodity it is now being deployed as a weapon of war.
Energy has become a battleground between C20th business models and C21st realities. It trades in cynicism, malevolence and greed. Worse still it illustrates our hubris, our impotence, the compromise of our moral standing and our lack of a truly reforming vision for the future. The lights may be on, but is anyone actually at home?
Guilty of a dereliction of duty, global governments have taken the easy option of dealing in imports instead of relying on self-sufficiency. They have led us down the dead-end-street of a compromised dependency on dwindling fossil fuels, rather than boldly committing to comprehensive renewable strategies. In securing supply at any cost and unwilling to countenance a disruption to our way of life, politicians have centralized our power in other people hands. With whole populations held hostage by investors and lobbyists whose interests are protected through policy, oil, gas and coal industries have us all literally over a barrel.
So what of architecture in these disingenuous times? The pre-occupations of the creative design professional can seem hopelessly out of touch in the face of such seismic issues. However, the built environment IS a key factor in setting out what our energy requirements actually are and so determines levels of Demand, which in turn defines what the Supply is.
Sadly there is a great deal of medieval thinking at work in the building of our buildings. Take our great British house-building industry, which kills off progressive thought and whose response is to skyrocket costs at the merest suggestion of any upgrade in building specification or performance criteria. Some 60 years ago, people went into space with nothing more than some glorified tin foil between them and the ultimate of all inhospitable environments, and yet back here on Earth we more often messily muddle through using minor modifications to tried and tested methods.
When it comes to insulation, there is a clear economic tug of war between the floor area of buildings and the thickness of building envelope. Thinner insulation is more expensive and so a desire to build cheaply leads to less space in which to live. Questions about what we ‘value’ are therefore pertinent. With rising energy bills and the worsening cost of living forced on society at large, will the general public start to demand higher standards & revolutionary change, or will the profiteering of energy companies be allowed to continue as they are, aided by high usage linked to poor performance of building fabric?
As insulation campaigners are vilified by the establishment, where is the collective will to fully explore holistic solutions to THE major issue facing the built environment today? With poorly serviced/insulated housing stock stubbornly accounting for 15% of UK greenhouse gas emissions, do we have any other choice but to make urgent changes as quickly as possible?
Will Ing, Architects' Journal (chair)
Kunle Barker, Property Expert, Writer & Broadcaster
Cameron Ford, Insulate Britain
Tanvir Hasan, Donald Insall Associates
Summer Islam, Material Cultures Tim O'Callaghan, nimtim architects