14/08/2009

Fast Cheap and Good

I hope clients come to me as an architect because they want a building that is both sustainable and elegant. I will specify recycled materials, sustainable timber and cork insulation, and I will not specify non-certified timber, PVC or copper. But the main challenge for me is energy consumption, and to quote Michael McDonough "..if everything is equally important, nothing is very important." The total energy invested in the construction and maintenance of a building is my prime concern, and dependance on fossil fuels is not difficult to eradicate, especially as I design and build in a Mediterranean environment.

The easiest way to produce a low energy, low carbon footprint building would be to embrace existing available technology and forget about the building's inhabitants. That is not my aim. A purely "engineered" solution is not what architecture is about. My aim is to seek a balance between technology, habitability, elegance and nature. I want my clients to to be able to enjoy their buildings and their surroundings without damaging the environment.

“Fast, Cheap, and Good… pick two. If it’s fast and cheap it won't be good. If it’s cheap and good it won’t be fast. If it’s fast and good it wont be cheap.”

Jim Jarmusch in conversation with Tom Waits

Fast. A sustainable building will take no longer to build than a profligate building. It will require more thought, investigation and dedication at the design stage, but that is our responsibility as architects. Specifying the right materials and calculating the solar protection to ensure passive solar heating in winter and shading in the summer is not rocket science, but it is crucial to the successful conclusion of a project.

Cheap is never economical. The economical consequences of a building are not only those apparent at tender stage. It is highly unlikely that a cheap building will be economical in the long run. It will be expensive to keep it at the right temperature and will not be durable. In both economic and energetic terms, the cost of a building must be judged throughout it's useful life, not just in terms of how much the builder says it will cost to build. An efficient durable building is more economic than a cheap building, and it will do less damage to the environment. A cheap building that lasts 20 years will cost more in financial and energetic terms than an economic building that lasts 40. All new buildings in Europe are now classified with an energy rating equivalent to that given to washing machines and refrigerators, for example. Is there a market for a D rated washing machine? No, and nobody makes washing machines that are not A or A+ rated. The future resale value of a house that is not A rated is debatable but not something that a client should ignore. So building cheap will have a negative effect on the value of a building whatever your criteria.

Good. What is a good building? My aim is to give my clients what they need, not necessarily what they want. Which can be difficult, depending on the client. For example, I don't do arches, so if arches are a prime concern for my clients, I suggest that they look for an old building and that we proceed from there. Inevitably, most clients want more space than they need, and what they want is usually more than they can afford and/or the local authority will permit. My criteria as an architect is that a building should give the client want they require, that they can can afford to build, maintain and run, whilst reducing energy consumption and environmental damage to an absolute minimum. It will be elegant, healthy to live in and a joy to inhabit.

Fast is not good or cheap. Cheap maybe fast but it's not good. Good is not fast or cheap.

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