Ph.D. Title: Traversing sustainable architecture: between discourse and practice. 



Charlotte Bundgaard                                 Walter Unterrainer

Lecturer, arkitekt MAA, Ph.D.                      Professor MSO



Since the end of the industrial revolution, there have been increased discussions around what is now labelled sustainability and in particular, sustainable architecture. The industrial revolution fostered architecture movements such as modernism, which have significantly influenced contemporary architecture today. Many theories in sustainable architecture grew in opposition of the desire for globalisation and uniformity from the modernists.


A major turning point for the topic was following the publishing of ‘Our Common Future’, from the Brundtland Commission in 1987. No other published document has been more regurgitated in affiliation with sustainability. The need for people to define sustainability in its totality has many implications for the field of sustainable architecture. While the Brundtland Commission focuses on the idea of ‘needs’, the ‘triple bottom line’ approach developed after the 1992 Summit in Rio de Janeiro, this included social, environmental and economic factors, however; this resulted in a greater focus on the economic. In addition, a fourth pillar has been added to the triple bottom line - culture. Culture is now considered an equal partner in these definitions of sustainability. The inherent need to put a label on sustainability has resulted in fragmentation and often ‘greenwashing’ in society but even more so in regards to the built environment. There is a risk of real efforts and values being lost when sustainable architecture is reduced to strict definitions, shallow-technical-add-ons or tick-box-quantifiable-standards of hard values. For example, the superficial use of technological-add-ons is more commonly visible to the publics’ eye and casts a negative shadow over more complex-integrated-sustainable strategies.


Contemporary theory and knowledge around sustainable architecture has been developing rapidly and often fragmented, in recent years, however, the same cannot be said for what is being produced and erected by industry. A vast majority of sustainable architecture within the field has become overrun with the need to tick certification and awards boxes, promoting buildings which often deal with sustainability on one or two dimensions. “Architecture tends to make an absolute separation between theory and practice, between analysis and synthesis.”[1] Theory has the ability to influence the practice of architecture by introducing new ways of looking at reality and therefore, new ways of representing that reality in the built form,[2] however, this is not often the case.




[1] Agrest, D.I., 1993. Architecture from Without. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.


[2] Brown, A. 2009. Architecture Texts: A Theory of Theory of Architecture. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 April 15].