The Evolution of Green Urban Structures

Evolution is the adaptation to a changing environment. I think what’s so impressive about the architectural form of evolution is that it’s a non-biological, inanimate concept that it will continue to grow and change with our world. Construction will never be obsolete and technology will continue to develop. This gives architects a challenge worth facing when creating sustainable urban structures.

Sustainability has always been a concept floating around and taking on different shapes for various conservation issues. But when it comes to architecture how did we end up shifting into this new level of consciousness?

Sustainable Urban Structure Design is Born

This effort actually started through the sanitary health and public health movements in the nineteenth century. During this period, society dealt with many plagues of diseases and fires, which in affect brought attention to the polluted and degraded surroundings, this awareness started the environmental movement. The link between society and the environment was not new. Activist Edwin Chadwick, who wrote about the sanitary conditions in England, drew this conclusion in back in 1842. However, it was not until after World War II and the Oil Embargo and energy crises of 1973, that the foundation of the green concept emerged.

In response, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) formed an energy task force and architects like Victor Olgyay theorized how architecture should combat these issues. I believe that today the conclusion that construction affects the environment is a standard assumption but there was a time where that connection was not so obvious to people. So individuals like Olgyay and Norman Foster who in many ways pioneered these studies in sustainability during the 70s started this revolutionary way to conceptualize architecture and urban structures. It became more than just space it was about material, light, and energy as well.


National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Image via ArchDaily.

Governmental & Corporative Roles

In 1987, the U.N. World Commission on Environment defined what Sustainable Development means which is, “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability for future generations to meet their own needs.” This is still as much the definition today as it was then. After realizing how much humans affect ecological surroundings, it became our responsibility to mend these issues. When BREEAM, the First Environmental Assessment program appeared in 1990 in the UK., it quickly became an outline to build from. In the years following, the U.S Green Building Council (USGBC) and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) were developed. Since the energy crises the governmental, corporative, and design aspects of urban structures have come together to create various avenues for sustainability.

An example of this is the USGBC: their organization is made up of members from architectural firms, engineers, contractors, universities, state and local governments, insurance firms, real estate agencies and investment firms, and manufacturers. It actually is quite surprising how much construction affects a variety of groups across many fields. In the Social Construction of Green Building Codes, the authors allude that Chadwick’s theories caused a “shift” of governmental responsibilities in sustainability, however, I don’t completely agree with their idea. I view it more as a shift in public and corporate awareness for fiscal and ecological development. The governmental role although authoritative in regulating systems in each country, is not usually the main contender when promoting green building. Therefore, I leave much of the credit as to how far we’ve come to theses separate non-profiting organizations that work toward a better, greener future.

Feature Image: Foster + Partners Willis Faber & Dumas Headquarters at night. Image via Fosters + Partners.

About The Author

is a undergrad student who has been studying architecture for over four years, first at Pratt Institute and now at UCF. Sustainability is important to her as a designer because architects greatly influence the environment through building and construction. It's vital for her to understand what the current issues are and how we can go about improving them. Her motto is "We can't create innovation without knowing what has already been done".