Will it Sustain? - Behind the Green Door

Under an umbrella heading, Will it Sustain? - Behind the Green Door is a major exhibition at the Danish Architecture Center on Strandgade in Copenhagen.

To quote from the introduction to the exhibition …

“Recent years have witnessed a growing focus on how we can ensure the most sustainable development of our society. But which role does architecture play in such a development.

At the Danish Architecture Centre we are concerned with how architecture creates value in society. We are eager to debate how to create the most sustainable development and what role architecture and the built environment play in investing our lives with a green, inspirational and innovative setting.”

The project was completed for the Oslo Architecture Triennale and marked 30 years since the UN asked the Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brudtland to formulate a global standard for sustainable development.

The Belgian group Rotor, who were founded in 2005, spent a year collecting together 600 items for the exhibition to reflect how our approach to sustainability has evolved - to record how attitudes have changed over that period of 30 years and chart some of the ideas tried out. 

The exhibition is set out through two main galleries on the entrance level of the Architecture Center. Along the inner wall is a time line with exhibits - architectural models, trials of new building materials, experiments, drawings and ideas - running from 1968 through to 2050 and then on island displays main themes are explored including more obvious ideas such as using better cladding to improve thermal properties or the problems with waste but there are also items exploring ideas about deconstruction - making materials easier to reuse - and beauty … the concept that if a building is considered to be beautiful then possibly it is appreciated and kept in use for longer so preserving precious resources. The problem clearly is that beauty is not something that can be measured or even predicted - people sometimes get attached to the strangest and least likely buildings - and the phrase used is can beauty be instrumentalised?

Some information brought me up with a start … for every ton of cement produced, nearly 900 kg of carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere and as current World production is 3.6 billion tons this is responsible for 5% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Solutions include making lighter cement blocks with gas bubbles that also act as more efficient insulation and could mean less cladding insulation is needed.

Other displays were more startling for their language or terminology. We have a huge stock of buildings in use and clearly it makes sense to bring these up to a higher level of sustainability by, for instance, improving thermal efficiency, particularly as demolition and the disposal of demolition material can have a huge impact on the environment so when you demolish a building you have to, in effect, in terms of waste, take a huge step back in order to move forward. Sometimes improving buildings to bring them up to current standards is therefore a viable option but here the additions and alterations to old buildings were much more dramatic than anything I have seen in practice and came under the heading Prosthetics.

Other displays showed sustainability could be great fun. One area posed a question about chimneys. From the period of rapid industrialisation in the 19th century we have associated chimneys with the most blatant and obvious form of air pollution. But there are plans for a new waste incinerator for Copenhagen that is to be built at the east end of the harbour. It will be enormous and could incorporate an artificial mountain forming the roof with ski runs down it in the winter. The chimney has been developed to release vapour as giant smoke rings though of course this would actually be a dire warning system monitoring the waste of the city … the more frequently rings are released the more rubbish is being incinerated. The exhibition asks if chimneys could "be reinvented to become a contemporary symbol of sustainability?"

Information was provided on sheets of pink paper that could be torn off thick pads beside each display and a sort of washing line that curved around the entrance had clips and folders with A4 sheets with tour notes for each section of the exhibition which seem to be updated at regular intervals as visitors add comments.

On the upper level of the Center are two smaller exhibitions on related themes under the umbrella title Will it Sustain? One is Shifts: The Economic Crisis and its Consequence for Architecture and the other The Banality of Good - the concept of sustainability from the social angle, looking primarily at new towns through the second half of the 20th century from around the World 

A book to accompany the exhibition Behind the Green Door is due to be published on Wednesday - on the 23rd April. The exhibition continues until the 25th May 2014.