Holcim Award: Greener Pastures
Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of serving on the jury
for the Holcim Sustainable Architecture Awards. Now the Holcim Foundation (the nonprofit branch of one of the world’s
largest concrete companies) has announced the winners, and I can reveal all—well, at least report on an interesting discussion we had during the jury
What I can tell you is that we finally seem to be moving
beyond technological quick fixes or a first-do-no-harm defensiveness into greener
pastures. Many of the projects were
smart in ways that will truly help the planet. All of us were excited about the award winners, especially as they were
from such different parts of the world and represented such different attitudes
towards what makes sustainable architecture.
Kere School. Courtesy Holcim Foundation.
The Gold Award went to Kere Architecture’s secondary school
in Burkina Faso. There was nothing not
to like about this use of simple materials and straightforward design to create
what we all thought would be luminous spaces where children in this isolated,
rural area will be able to receive an education. The wood, straw, and mud structures will use the
sun and wind for power, and we are pretty sure Kere will pull it off, because
he has done similar projects already. Our only reservation was that this architect, born in Burkina Faso,
living and working in Berlin, and collaborating with German designers, has
already received so many accolades for the work he has done in his native
Brazil Music School. Courtesy Holcim Foundation.
Urban Think Tank designed a “civic
infrastructure hub” for Grotao, Sao Paolo. A “music factory” that shelters areas for sports and play underneath
spaces lifted up above a sloping park, the building will be a concrete
frame. Though monumental, it will turn
the basic methods of construction of the houses all around it into a civic
form. The park will help stem erosion
and provide not only passive green space, but also opportunities for all kinds
of other activities.
Berlin Pool. Courtesy Holcim Foundation.
The Bronze Award led to some discussion. Specifically, Mario Botta and I disagreed
about the contributions a swimming pool on the back of Berlin’s Museum Island
would make to either the city’s ecology (it is actually part of a wider
remediation project) or the social life of anybody except tourists and the yuppies
now occupying the former East Berlin. I
had and have no doubt that this will be a fun place to go swim, and that Tim
Edler and Realities United are good architects, but I would have loved to have seen
some projects in our awards list that were less about polite form and making
things a little better, and more about critical transformation.
You can only give so many awards, I am sorry to say, and we
gave found three great ones. Certainly
none of the three awardees are example of traditional form-making, and their
nature as objects is secondary to the effects they achieve. That already was for me a real mark of
sustainability. Instead of adding gizmos
and gadgets to buildings, or mitigating the effects of construction, at least
two of these projects were integrated operations that will improve the social
and ecological situation in which they appeared. If the Gold Award winner still was a more
traditional building, it made possible and framed such a fundamental act of
gathering that we imagined it would lead to greater sustainability in the
What I had hoped for beyond the achievements we awarded was
a clearer focus on the reuse and renovation of what we have already made, and
in such a manner that it does not necessary equate newness with clean lines and
abstraction. There were several projects
of this sort in competition, but we collectively decided on the great merits of
the prizewinners. Next time, I hope for
more rip and tear, reuse and rethinking.