Sustainable development is revolutionising architecture
At a time when the concept of sustainable development has become the major challenge of the century, the architecture sector in France is reviewing its practices and finding eco-friendly solutions. This is an opportunity to implement the principle of prevention, to invent different kinds of living space, to create an innovative architecture and to reinstate the architectural profession’s social function, in collaboration with its international colleagues.
Botanical Museum, Bordeaux - © JAP – photographer Vincent Monthiers
Is it possible to build in a “sustainable” and restore in a “responsible” way? How can we promote green architecture? The Grenelle Environment Forum, a series of political meetings organised in France by the Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Jean-Louis Borloo, has been focusing on renewable energy and energy conservation. The building sector is unquestionably the major winner from these meetings. A massive investment policy has been announced. Between now and 2012, the energy consumption of all new buildings must be no more than 50 kWh/m2/year. The old building stock is not being left out, as it too will have to be brought up to standard, starting with public buildings.
For François Gondran, Architecte des Bâtiments de France (architects qualified in restoration and conservation) and in charge of the Service départemental de l’architecture et du patrimoine (SDAP) (responsible for protecting historic and listed monuments in the department) of Gironde, “architects are decisive players in establishing sustainable development initiatives for the conservation and adaptation of historic buildings, heritage sites and protected sectors, etc. In Bordeaux, we have set up a permanent training centre to ensure that everyone involved is speaking the same language. We feel that dialogue with local communities, consular chambers, state representatives, engineers and building sector manufacturers is vital. The precautionary principle is at the core of our approach: not demolishing historic centres and recycling old materials that are now rare”.
It is also in Bordeaux, a city open to Europe and the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007, that architect Françoise-Hélène Jourda, a specialist in ecological construction, has just completed a botanical museum equipped with photovoltaic greenhouses. She is currently constructing an office building in Saint-Denis (Paris region) which will be France’s first passive energy building. Having become aware very early on of the importance of constructing high-quality “responsible” buildings, Françoise-Hélène Jourda has designed, among many other projects, the Lyon School of Architecture (1985), the University of Marne-la-Vallée and the Palais de Justice (law courts) in Melun. A leading figure in contemporary architecture, she teaches in Vienna, Austria (after Norway, the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany), and is building in Greece, Morocco and Germany, where she has carried out numerous projects, notably the Academy Mont-Cenis in Herne in the Ruhr. Françoise-Hélène Jourda is a typical architect of the sustainable architecture camp, permanently in touch with her international colleagues and with current developments in their ongoing debate. “Sustainable development is going to shake up architectural composition as drastically as the industrial revolution did. When it comes to building, this involves the proper management of five resources: the materials, the ground, water, air and energy,” she remarks.
Today, our reserves of raw materials such as stone, limestone or ores are diminishing and prices have rocketed. How do we deal with this shortage? Among the eco-friendly materials that are becoming more widespread (wood, hemp, larch, straw, wool, goose-down, composite blocks, photovoltaic panels, etc), hemp, which enables walls to “breathe” and provides a building with natural ventilation, is also a high-quality heat and sound insulator. Combined with other products it can be formed into hemp concrete, with which builders are very pleased. “It is important to reuse our heritage by promoting the study of traditional techniques. It is an excellent school,” François Gondran points out.
In 2007, sustainable development was the theme of Batimat, the International Building Exhibition, approached along four lines: energy efficiency, safety, accessibility and renovation. One particular question was posed: how to save energy at the same time as providing comfort, efficiency and profitability? With nearly 1,000 new products exhibited this year, Batimat has shown that the players in this industrial sector are ready to take up the challenges in the sphere of building. An international sustainable architecture prize was launched in 2007 by the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (museum of architecture and heritage). The winner, Hermann Kaufmann, an Austrian architect specialising in construction with wood, is going to build an eco-friendly house in Chanteloup-les-Vignes (Paris region). “This award encourages me to continue my work. There is still so much to do in architecture in the field of sustainable development,” he tells us.
Environmental protection and sustainable development in the sphere of construction are closely related to controlling the technical and environmental aspects of buildings, but also to their economic, social and cultural aspects. “It is our duty to understand the techniques that are environmentally friendly so that we can remain exemplary in applying them,” adds François Gondran. Training is therefore an essential factor in sustainable development policy. Architects have taken this issue on board. The schools of architecture and the Ordre des architectes (Association of Architects) have announced that, from 2008, continuing education for professionals during their period of accreditation in project management will become compulsory.
So, when are we going to see the organic house? Reconciling eco-friendly housing and architecture is no longer a utopia and an increasing number of architects are going to try their hand at it.