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To say that sustainability as a design consideration has increased in recent years would be an understatement - it has become driving force for many decision-making stakeholders on project. However, sustainable thinking is nothing new. Back to prehistoric times, through the development of modern civilization, sustainable practices have come and gone. Before concern for climate change, the 60's counterculture embraced and promoted regenerative approaches to bringing people back to nature. In the 70's the oil embargo forced people to pay attention to their energy consumption. While we are all eager to discover new high tech sustainable solutions, what are some old ideas and practices that you remember or have learned about? How can they be updated for the present? Are there any forgotten solutions that should be reevaluated today?
Looking at the past also forces us to learn from historical damages such as fires or the fragility of massive structures made of clay elements. It is important to implement today's technology to look at and restructure past technology: wood structures and mixed structures. We have a monumental challenge: the density in cities, which forces us to build towards heights. This would already be a cultural change, a return to the countryside.
Well – perhaps not everything old is new again. For example, the extensive use of fossil fuel that started during the beginning of industrial era – in terms of human intervention on natural climatic processes. This old (?) negative intervention is on the rolling hill of replacement by something that were not thought before – the alternative sources of energy.
But, it is true in a sense that people are realizing that pre-industrial business activities relied upon family-type relationship among peoples – and there are fresh thinking to restore it back in some fashion. Because, industrialization riding on capitalist or non-capitalistic bandwagon made everything mechanistic – with some fall-outs on personal and social relationships.
Perhaps another example in terms coastal engineering: people are talking about and implementing restoration of coastal beaches to pre-industrial living beaches – or restoring them to their domain of natural dynamic balance.
Before coining of the Sustainable Development term by GH Brundtland (1939 - ) in 1987 – such an idea was in vogue in many cultures. In Asia, it was mainly understood as maintaining Harmony or Feng-Shui in Nature and everything. In France, it was understood as durabilite or durable, in Germany as Nachhaltigkeit or lastingness, and in the Netherlands as duurzaam.
National Academies Publication NAP 26654 is a perhaps a good reference to refresh our understanding and becoming more aware of the need for sustainability. No wonder, many universities and institutes now offer Sustainability Engineering courses in their curricula.
Needless to say that all these fresh thinking and venting them out – are the healthy sign of a dynamic society.
Dr Dilip K Barua, PhD
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