#PECA: Notes about Environmental Issues
On 24 November last year I was a member of the “Environmental Issues” panel at the 1st PECA Debate Symposium, together with such eminent colleagues as Miriam García, Esther Higueras, Patrizia Laplana, Inés Leal, Francisco Leiva, Justo Orgaz, Cristina del Pozo, Verónica Sánchez and José María Torres Nadal. I was there representing the Asociación Sostenibilidad y Arquitecture (ASA—Association for Sustainability and Architecture). Our contribution was followed by three more days of intense debate prior to the drafting of Spain’s new Law of Architecture, in what was an open, participative event unprecedented in our country’s history. With PECA!, we are building a new future in which change is a real possibility.
Making an effort to think ahead, we played around with several different concepts, combining them and exploring the grey zones between them. I took to the panel four keywords that provide us with a glimpse of the types of moves the new law could encourage to help us advance on environmental issues:
Regeneration + urban naturalisation
We live in contaminated, denaturalised environments. What’s more, as an architect my occupational psychosis makes me even more aware of the mind-boggling distance which now exists between those environments and our nature. In building biology, in the application of building standards and in the work groups of ASA and CONAMA (the National Conference on the Environment) , our idealised, “working” perception of environmental quality is painfully far removed from the reality I experience as a citizen and resident of Granada. The streets are painful to contemplate. More than rebuild, it’s time to regenerate. And it’s time to renaturalise. To open the city’s doors to the countryside, to return to the rural world, to recover villages and ecosystems through permaculture. Replanting a forest can also be architecture: “architecture that lies beyond the human domain”, in the words of José María Torres Nadal.
Typological recycling + changes in regulations
We live like hermit crabs, expending our energy on reinhabitation projects to justify an urban status quo that fails to meet our needs. During the panel discussion, Arturo Franco said that “we need architecture to stop being a prison”. The worst thing is that this obsolete environment keeps reproducing itself. Why isn’t creating a cooperative an option in social housing? Why do we allow so many buildings and sites to remain empty? Why are schools designed and built to be used for only half a day, 9 months a year? We have to stop and review current regulations in depth, and then reset them for reconstruction and deconstruction. Veronica Sánchez even suggested a law that would prevent anything new from being built in the next 250 years. In the Basque Country, government funding is already being made available for the addition of new terraces and balconies to existing buildings.
Intergenerationality + Communication
Not long ago I heard Fritjof Capra say that the key to moving on from the present consumption-based system to a horizon of contraction lies in focussing on relationships and communities: between human beings and, obviously, with other beings on our planet. Because it is in relationships that we can change our mentality and come closer to a systemic outlook. In our profession, an unsurpassable rift now exists between the organizational structures we have inherited and the new culture to which the new generations belong. It is vital to create spaces of intergenerational reconstruction like this blog, or like the new law, where old and new can be reconciled.
Participation + the City of Caring
Caring for the environment in which we live, caring for people, but also caring for each species in danger of extinction: all this involves acting as mouthpieces for voices that have been silenced, because it is they that know the truth and can therefore tell us the best ways to put sustainability measures into practice. In France, the recently created Citizens’ Convention for Climate constitutes a very interesting point of reference with regard to visibilisation. As much needed mediators in the social management of our habitat, we architects have much to contribute.
These issues should be made the centre of attention both in the Spanish Urban Agenda and in the Law of Architecture. Because, as Justo Orgaz said, “2030 is tomorrow”, so we had better wake up.