The cost of the black fuel boosts the value of the green tag. After two decades of reasonably cheap oil, the spectacular increase of the barrel price in the past years has strongly reactivated the political and professional interest in the energy behavior of buildings, resulting in a fast-paced flourishing of legal initiatives and requirements, with a variety of measures that go from technological regulations to sustainability tags, and a collection of stimuli that go from financial subsidies to symbolic rewards. Architects can no longer ignore this professional landscape, and if the larger architectural firms have been the first to incorporate ‘green’ messages in their communication strategies, even the more modest studios shall have to keep in mind the new environmental agenda in their design procedures and assessment habits.
The material prosperity of the eighties and the digital revolution of the nineties shaped a scenario of boundless personal and formal freedom in which individual emancipation from social discipline and even biological limits ran parallel to an unsuspected spreading of forms oblivious to conventional or constructive constriction. Today, the soaring prices of energy and global warming force to review our priorities – springing from the double awareness of the scarcity of resources and the planet’s incapacity to absorb the residues of human activity –, and us architects have to take up the urgent challenge to develop an aesthetic of construction and an urban ethic in tune with the changing times, and which can go beyond the modern paradigm of growth and industry, but also beyond the postmodern syndrome of timelessness and nostalgia.
In the pursuit of this goal we have encountered more failures and frauds than successes, so it is not easy to avert skepticism. From the poor formal quality of the ecological architectures that were so popular in the seventies in the heat of the two oil crises of that decade, to the cynicism of the last crop of ‘sustainable’ skyscrapers set forth as examples of green architecture, there are more reasons for despair than for hope. Buildings are responsible for an important fraction of the consumption of energy and materials, and territorial models are a key variable in transport costs, but neither architects nor planners have a decisive influence on the global results in any of these fields. And even so, each plan and each project that is drawn out of environmental awareness redeems its author and rescues all of us from fatalist impotence and passive acceptance.