Extreme sustainability

TristanScene 1: Late 1990’s. Two professors from Superior Technical School of Architecture in Seville are finishing, in their last meeting, an application for a student project exhibition for a public building and its landscape intervention in Huelva mountain ranges. The manager explains all necessary requirements and, when the meeting is almost over, one of them presents: there should appear (as many times as possible) the terms sustainable and sustainability in the technical report. The attendants agreed on the easiness of the requirement, due to it is enough to add the substantive and the adjective on different locations of the already written report. Thus, the application keep its path successfully.

Scene 2: Solar Competition Decathlon Europe 2012. “Team Andalusia” received an international judge who is going to evaluate prototype “Patio 2.12”, taking into account all those measures, materials and tools in charge of fostering sustainability of the proposal. French and German prototypes show an ingenious system for recycling materials, such as CD coverings transformed into a ventilated facade, or sophisticated apps made up from new generation compounds to pretend thermal inertia on light prefabricated buildings. The Andalusian team decided to compete using other methods: telling the truth. Describing the elimination (due to the shortage) of all public funds already planned for the construction of the prototype. Despite that fact, they worked with some help from regional companies and workers, who sponsored the work, giving their products and labor force to the work. Due to the economic situation, the project had to readjust itself, giving up some of the most modern finishes and systems for using everything as found. They used materials designed for other uses, just adjusted with few transformations, taking the advantage of the impure, hybrid and DIY from all the stuff left.

If was not necessary to add more arguments for the second prize for sustainability, even surpassing those most technological universities if we take into account that all designed devices for the consumption of the less photovoltaic energy possible gathered on the limited batteries. Sustainability of shortage is the most authentic one.

Why sustainable architecture is an independent category?, Do we organize congresses about “architecture which does not fall down” or “architecture where all the facilities work”? What about “architecture where the visitor may find their path” or “architecture based on a budget”? No, these are presupposed qualities in every proper architecture. We understand the concept sustainable architecture as an architecture that optimizes its resources. Every valuable architecture should be “sustainable” in that sense. So, could we find another, and more specific, definition of the Miesian motto “less is more”?

As an occasion for International Ideas Contest for Tristan da Cunha island, where we were luckily selected between the last 5 teams in the world in charge of designing “A more sustainable future” for the most distant island. As a consequence, we had to give another scope to the concept of sustainability.

Tristan da Cunha island appears on Guinness World Record’s book as the most remote islands on the planet. It takes part into the British Empire and host 80 families, all of them descendants from British colonists, who settled there in the beginning of the 19th century. Economy is based on agriculture and industrial commercialization of lobster (very abundant on its shore). It has 98 km2 and a great volcano, which it last eruption dates from 1961, when the local population had to migrate to the UK for two years.

The Ideas Contest was launched worldwide by RIBA London and they selected the most convincing proposals in terms of solving the lacks of the buildings, public spaces and infrastructures regarding livability, comfort, energy consumption and spacial efficiency. Our proposal was focused on the improvement of liability and efficiency conditions of current and future buildings and on readjusting public spaces as a way of creating open air common spaces for gathering but protected from extreme weather conditions from the Atlantic. The project used a more modern version of a prefabrication “component kit” for those new buildings, made up with a pre-designed software that included users and a bunch of user-friendly construction systems, so that inhabitants could become builders for restorations or new building constructions. Also, our proposal studied a photovoltaic microgrid combined with little wind turbines.

However, all those aspects were determined by the extremely difficult access to the island, because it can only be reached by a ship that docks once every two months and it can only exchange two dumpsters on every arrival. Every design should take into account all this lack of supplies and use local natural resources for construction (limited to volcanic stones) and the insufficient laborforce of the community. It was a challenge for taking advantage of every possible transport, every element potentially recyclable, every help from the colonists. A human biotype designed for an almost self-sufficient future. A little metaphor for the future of humankind.

One of the sixties forefathers of the current environmental awareness was R. Buckmister Fuller, who said “we are all astronauts in a little spaceship called Earth”. Conceiving the earth as a spaceship floating in the universe, with its limited natural resources and cautiously shared it is not far from imagining a remote island, where no planes nor ships can reach, dominated by an almost asleep volcano and where only inventiveness, collaboration and consciousness of lack of resources may build up a well-balanced habitat for future generations. Extreme sustainability.

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