This thesis was developed to investigate the current models of sustainable development and architectural working and design practice and process to respond to the challenges of the current era defined as the Information Age. This thesis proposes a new model of sustainable development aligned to architecture and the Information Age, and a new integrated systems-design methodology to support it.
Buildings were defined by le Corbusier in 1927 as ‘machines for living in’1 on the premise that these buildings facilitated our day-to-day user experience. The role of architecture as a facilitator for a sustainable existence is therefore subject to continued investigation. While there has been an increasing interest in environmental issues and ‘green building’, built environments have consequently failed to effectively holistically integrate core sustainable development principles in architecture. When compared to the definition of sustainable development in the UN Brundlandt Report of 1987, further research into an architectural design methodology is required to enable and plan for the long-term success of our built environments for current and, importantly, future generations.
The practices and production of architecture risk being limited to reactively monitoring the design and construction processes for fixed moments in time, usually after the problem has presented itself. This is representative of localised, yet much publicised trends involving quantifiable rating systems for building performance. This does not contribute to long-term sustainability of the architectural product, nor the core principle of sustainable development to adequately meet the needs of current and future generations. The gravitation towards these easily-followed, yet limited-in-scope checklist processes is symptomatic of concepts of sustainable development remaining too broad and fragmented to facilitate focused, industry-appropriate implementation and design.
The digital and information-based revolution has arrived, and humankind has now progressed to the point where constant and pervasive access to information and communication in a world of connected systems has changed the way we live and work. This is occurring at an exponential rate within what have been termed ‘knowledge-based societies’. Furthermore, the influence of the Information Age continues to manifest itself in the built environment through advancement of concepts and initiatives such as Smart Cities, intelligent buildings, and the Internet of Things. However, architectural approach and its emphasis on the building as a finite product comes at the expense of a holistic and integrated systems approach, and therefore requires investigation towards a revised design methodology. This thesis will begin by investigating the concept of sustainable development from its original inception to existing interpretations, and will interrogate its continued significance as a decades-old concept to the Information Age. This will be undertaken on the basis that sustainable development primarily aligns itself to the needs of humankind (current and future generations) and as such remains timeless as a core concept. However, the criteria that define sustainable development require investigation based on: a) their suitability towards human need in the context of knowledge-based societies and the Information Age, as well as b) their appropriateness for focused implementation in the scope of the built environment. In this aim, newly proposed criteria will be assimilated into a revised model for sustainable development, from which a methodology for design is developed. This will address the nature of the architectural process towards the creation of sustainable building solutions as a function of a systems approach, rather than a product approach.
An integrated systems-design methodology is proposed, promoting the evolution of sustainable development theory in architecture for greater applicability to the Information Age. This systems-design methodology proactively identifies criteria for solving a given problem and the development of alternative solutions, while the proposed revised model for sustainable development is integrated to achieve a holistic building solution based on a systems process. This is inclusive of product (systems solution) delivery into the operation phase. The designer and project information model therefore transition into ‘information custodian’ and repository for knowledge gathering and exchange respectively, to the benefit of current and future stakeholders. This is addressed through various stages in design development and implementation, which apply contextually-based requirements of proposed sustainable development criteria, while catering for aspects of future flexibility, user experience, and knowledge-based development. This methodology expects the design practitioner to apply multi-dimensional evaluation and assessment tools at their discretion, and accommodate changing project dynamics over its life cycle. This implementation will benefit from future research and the introduction of new technologies to aid the process. This may furthermore be affected by new regulatory policy and guidelines affecting architects and the built environment.