SDG’s, Architecture And The Global Humanist Revolution, By Garba Bashar Ibrahim
It is no gainsaying that architecture has a direct or indirect relation to the 17 outlined Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). Specifically, goals 9 (Innovation and Infrastructure), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 13 (Climate Action), and 15 (Ecosystems) have a direct correlation with architecture, urban planning and the built environment in general. Therefore, it has become imperative that architecture, especially in Africa must be looked as a viable tool towards achieving the new Sustainable Development Goals.
To investigate the role of architecture in achieving this, we must first of all endeavour to ascertain the level of influence it plays on the human trend. Then we must challenge current practices, especially where they do not empathize with our collective goals as humans; especially where they conflict with our culture and context. Culture aligns with all the worldviews with regards to sustainability and as a result plays a critical role in any attempt to achieve inclusivity, equity, and justice. The SDG’s aim through a systemic universal cooperation to address these challenges.
Universalization, as Kenneth Frampton posits, despite being progressive, has given rise to a subtle destruction of culture, which is the ‘ethical’ and ‘mythical’ nucleus of human life. Here, we must — for later debates as would be read here — subsume our definition of universalization to be interchangeable with zivilization and techno-scientific advancement. Behind the scenes, an aggressive tendency exists that over-bloats the importance of universalization, which in reality is a clever catalyst with an undertone of global capitalism. As a result, almost every human endeavour including science and architecture has caved in to the ‘automation’ process, which in isolation is not the real culprit per se. But when this ‘automation’ or technology is hijacked and used as a tool, according to Frampton, for the manipulation of elements predetermined by the imperatives of capital production, facilitation of marketing and maintenance of social control, then they lose their ‘humanist appeal’ and offer a ‘compensatory façade’ to cover-up the atrocities of this new universal system. Critics of this have so far being accused of harbouring an aimless sentimental nostalgia, which is only retrogressive, according to the new sets of postmodern architects that oil the engine of the capitalist paradigm. This takes us back to the unending dialectical debate ‘between tradition and modernism’ which I wrote on before.
To counter these submissions, we must therefore agitate to produce an architectural model that is bold enough to challenge these concerns raised by the globalist hegemony of postmodernity, such as minimalism. We must aspire to achieve a sustainable architecture. But what is a sustainable architecture? Jiat-Hwee Chang described sustainable architecture as a situated sociocultural practice, each with its own peculiar history, geography and politics. It is this brand of architecture that is resilient against hegemonic incursions of popular as opposed to erudite culture. According to John Hendrix of University of Lincoln, architecture was traditionally responsible for providing culture with; imagination, synthesis, religion, connection to memory, subjectivity, tradition, local ritual etc. A sustainable architecture hence must, despite criticisms aspire to achieve these. Just as Gro Harlem Brundtland has opined; that there is no real pressure group for the preservation of the environment that is friends with the government; any attempt at a sincere sustainable architecture will face opposition from a hegemonic point of view.
Therefore, if architecture must be a tool to achieve the SDG’s, then it must aspire to wear the humanist face in tandem with culture, overlooking all shallow anxieties of hegemonic concerns. It must offer the society, according to Alberto Perez Gomez, more than just technology and consumable novelty. It must endeavour to renegotiate its initial role as the shaper of our cultural outlook; it must aspire to, on the one hand, according to Nikolaos-Ion Terzoglou, deal with structural and material technology in order to build solid systematic spaces that satisfy human needs; and on the other hand allow these functional-material-structural order to express immaterial needs and aspirations, such as those of achieving sustainability in the built environment.
To build sustainable cities and communities — as outlined by goal 11 of the SDG’s — then the people of such communities must be empowered through accommodation of contextual tectonics and building materials. To some extent, the effect of any of the aforementioned SDG’s related to architecture share a symbiotic relation with each other. For instance, most of the arguments for the utilization of local tectonics and materials for building also equate to the goals of preserving ecosystems and climates and even renewable energy by the concepts of green architecture. This must go beyond just the rhetoric of politics.
In as much as the humanist revolution argument remains relevant — which must be so — architecture must play a vital role at the core of this noble agenda. And the sooner architects, authorities and all stakeholders realize this, the better.