Due to the fast deterioration of quality of life, seen in a massive scale in the slums and favelas all over the developing world, man is in a desperate quest to revert this degrading path. Like most of the issues in modern society, architecture too seems to have been stricken by the influence of the ‘globalization’ process, where local cultural identity gives way to the language of ignorance and law of the strongest. Importing the architectural ideas and concepts of foreign countries, whose geography, environment, and climate are totally different from that of origin, has led to improper, often catastrophic, architectural solutions and typologies, especially in developing countries. Furthermore, any interesting lessons of what were once the most sensible ways of building, according to culture and climate, are still being ignored and forgotten.
When money and resources are abundant, how, where, and when one builds is frequently overlooked. It is important, not to say essential, that one makes the most benefit of its living environment, in an intelligent and sustainable manner. The appropriateness of one solution for one community is not necessarily appropriate for another. There are a variety of problems in big urban centres; therefore, there should be a variety of solutions. Ideas should be abundant and appropriate to each context, and knowledge never ignored, always feeding back to past experiences and ancestors. Consequently cultural values, tradition, and historic memory, all that makes people and cities diverse, interesting, and unique, will be preserved.
As we move through a new century and a new millennium with an absurd increase in population, increase in hunger, and more astonishingly an increase in social differences, sustainable development is no longer an option but a requirement. It should no longer be theoretical, but practical. In the 1987 United Nations Conference entitled ‘Our Common Future’, it was defined that “Sustainable development is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Architecture plays a major role in making this development possible.
The urban centres are one of the most important works produced by humanity, and undoubtedly the one that has caused most environmental damage. Deforestation, heat island effect, and climatic changes are examples that blame the rapid growth of the industrialised city. The exaggerated use of natural resources and energy has also been a major concern. In most big cities, around one third (33 %) of the final consumption is related to the buildings.
Sustainability in developing countries, which hold 75 % of the world’s population, is a bigger challenge. They have only “17 % of the world’s gross national product, 5 % of science and technology, 15 % of energy consumption, 30 % of the food grains, 11 % of the education spending, and 6 % of the health expenditure” (Rice and Rasmusson 1992).
According to last Revision of the official United Nations population estimates and projections about 54 % of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, and this proportion is expected to increase to 66 % by 2050. Projections also show that urbanization combined with the overall growth of the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban populations by 2050, a total of 9.8 billion people, with close to 90 % of the increase concentrated in Asia and Africa.
In 1990, there were ten ‘mega-cities’ with ten million inhabitants or more, which were home to 153 million people, or slightly less than 7 % of the global urban population at that time. This has increased to 28 mega-cities worldwide in 2014, home to 453 million people or about 12 % of the world’s urban dwellers. Of these 28 megacities, 16 are located in Asia, 4 in Latin America, 3 in Africa and Europe, and 2 in Northern America. By 2030, the world is projected to have 41 mega-cities with ten million inhabitants or more.
The first thing to be aware is that natural resources are limited, especially in a world of fast increasing population. Manmade fuels and electricity are costly, inaccessible to poorer nations. Energy systems cannot cope with the exaggerated demands. The more we use today, the less future generations can also rely on them. This opposes any logical idea of sustainability. Generally, design is not taught in most places in the context of its social and ecological impact. Mackenzie (1991) in his approach to green design suggests the approach of “eco-efficiency, which means the delivery of the maximum benefit to the user, with the minimum use of resources and the least possible environment damage.”
There is today a vast body of knowledge on how to design buildings, including skyscrapers, in a sustainable and affordable way, through the use of bioclimatic, low energy strategies. There are even (a few) examples of low-energy (more sustainable) skyscrapers that could be followed, such as Norman Foster’s Commerzbank building in Frankfurt, Ken Yang’s Bioclimatic skyscrapers, or, on a smaller scale, the more recent wooden London’s Stadthaus, the Forte Building in Melbourne, or Michael Greene’s ‘Plyscraper’ in Vancouver. Unfortunately, this knowledge is not being put to practice, being replaced by ‘status’ driven typologies—deep plan buildings, with all-glazed facades, which are highly energy consuming and naturally damaging to the environment. For example, about one-sixth of all electricity generated in the United States is used for air conditioning in buildings—as a result of poor design and unrealistic comfort standards. That is about 40 billion dollars (Fig. 5.1).