AUTHOR: Sascha Roesler
CONTEXT: Prof. Muck Petzet, Professorship of Sustainable Design, Accademia di architecture, Mendrisio (Switzerland), 12.10.2016
Paul Brechignac, Nicolo Clerici, Giulia Donati, Valentin Goetze: Let’s start light: what is you personal definition of sustainability?
Sascha Roesler: I don’t have one. I usually don’t even use the term. But I’m certainly interested in many aspects in this field. In my case I’m more focused on the notion of passive climate control in urban contexts. In this sense I’m also participating in this very broad and undefined field of sustainability in architecture.
PB,NC,GD,VG: Do you feel this is something that allows you to stay open minded about what sustainability is or is it more of a moral stance, that sustainability shouldn’t be a topic?
SR: The world is changing so fast today, and in a completely different way as 20 years ago, and we have enormous problems to address, maybe not to solve (laughs). In this respect, I’m also trying to participate in this field. I am a researcher, an academic. And in this sense, sustainability for me is not a analytical tool. Its more of a normative notion. We all have to be sustainable, it is a moral responsibility today.
PB,NC,GD,VG: In your teaching, you seem to be focused on the city.
SR: Yes, to me the most important is to consider the city as a new kind of environment. Its not only that 50 percent of the people live in cities, but entire world is urbanised in some way.
If you go in the countryside in Indonesia, it is also urbanised: they have internet, smartphones, they use bricks that were produced somewhere else. Cities involve both the natural and the manmade. That why I refer to political ecology more that ecology itself. meaning we have to try to link society and nature in a new manner. This idea have been coined by many different persons, but was best described I think by Bruno Latour, the french sociologist.
This notion is, in my case, much more interesting than sustainability, or ecology. I mean would also like to live in a beautiful environment, with green grass and clean air. But if we look at real problems of cities, maybe not Mendrisio (laughs), but Jakarta, then we need to face completely different problems. The air is polluted, people use air condition while leaving the doors open. Manmade problems are entangled with natural phenomena.
The notion of political ecology address this situation better than sustainability or ecology.
PB,NC,GD,VG: Your teaching also seems to be focused on case studies.
SR: Yes, the other members of my team study specific cities: Santiago in Chile, Cairo in Egypt, Urumqi in China. I try to develop a new theoretical framework in terms of passive climate control, that’s the plot of this 4 year research.
PB,NC,GD,VG: And what disciplines are involved in this theoretical framework? Political ecology for example seems to deal with philosophy and sociology.
SR: We work within the framework of architectural theory. But we mainly refer to problems raised by social sciences: how people live and control climate conditions. We also try to integrate our studies within ethnographic research. The PhD students usually to stay on site for a year to observe how people live. For example in the case of Lionel in Santiago, Chile turned out to be more globalized than we think, so maybe concepts developed in Switzerland
are being exported to Chile. Which is crazy.
PB,NC,GD,VG: The title of your lecture — “Against Comfort” — is quite provocative. Should comfort concentrates on technical aspect or on the design one?
SR: The choice of this title for my lecture was quite polemical but I think it’s relevant to fight against comfort; it means, first of all, that we have two question today: the neutrality and the universality of this concept that emerged during the 20th century in certain society in US and Europe. Comfort means to provide a constant temperature and humidity at all costs, that is the main theme of this energy week performance. I really try to investigate the history of comfort and try to understand why today it is a strong concept, and I think that you are the new generation that can go forward. The question of comfort means to rethink our idea of microclimate, that would be what we tried to do in our seminary: rethinking the idea of microclimate and its relationship with the different spaces of a building. It’s not necessary that an entire building has to have 20 degrees during winter but maybe just the core could have 22 degrees as you can expect.
PB,NC,GD,VG: Do you think that in the last years in Europe we are doing something in order to have a friendly way of comfort or not?
SR: The situation is very different in Europe and Asia. In India and Indonesia the middle class would like to copy the Western way of living and its standard. But we can not change it. As architects we have to rethink certain ideas of the 20 century. Your generation simply does not have to copy what former architects have done in the past. It is necessary to open up your possibilities how to heat and cool the environment. I am not saying that we simply have to replace everything in the existing buildings but we could rethink and make them better. If we could heat only 50% of the building stock to 15 ° C it would have an enormous impact of the energy performance.
PB,NC,GD,VG: How does the approaches differ between Europe and the rest of the world?
SR: At least in Switzerland we can question certain development in the last decades. But going further such as India and China we have to accept that the middle class want to reach a new living standard: heated and cold environment. On the one hand it is their right to have this aspiration, but on the other hand we have to find a compromise. This is not a sustainable way of life and structure in the built environment.
PB,NC,GD,VG: Why did you choose these far away locations for your case studies?
SR: It is my personal interest. I have that planetary vision. All these approach to architecture and passive climate control can be compared and balanced. I want to consider various by chosen by the PhD researchers, according to their preferences.
PB,NC,GD,VG: Can we benefit from the traditional Asian/African/South American methods of construction in order to improve the sustainability in the Western world?
SR: Certainly but never in a direct way. There is always a need of translation. You can not look at the mud building and implement directly to our location. It should be part of the repertoire of the contemporary architect. There really is an Eurocentric idea of architecture which should be abounded. This aspect is part of my teaching activities and background. The topic of my PhD concentrates on how the modern architects were influenced by ethnography:
How modern architects were interested in varies living conditions and building traditions outside of their own cultural background.
PB,NC,GD,VG: About this question of implementation, in your lecture you spoke about the relation with the government. Is it more a down to up or up to down approach?
SR: I think it always depends on the particular situation you are dealing with. I lived in Singapore. The entire metropolis was built in 3-4 decades, starting from the 60s, therefore there is no old town. This allows the government to implement legislation in very top down manner. Originally people were used to have cross ventilation in their apartments, which is amazing. Now people are using air conditioning. In Switzerland it is the opposite; it is a much more individualistic society. Therefore, it always depends on the specific site, area and government you are dealing with. This idea of looking at passive house control in urban contexts, implies coordination, not a various and private approach, so it’s not just and individual business. For example: ‘I want to have my personal villa using a certain type of climate control and consequently this influences the entire environment.’ You have to sit together and evaluates the gains and consequences on the entire surrounding, and this is the challenge especially for you, young students!
PB,NC,GD,VG: Which person or institute would you recommend to be included in the RRR Symposium of Sustainability?
SR: From my personal experience, it’s quite obvious to involve and recommend the “Future Cities Lab” of the ETH. I was working there for 2 years and a half, it is really a huge research institute, based in Singapore and referring to other areas in China. It’s a interdisciplinary institute as well.
PB,NC,GD,VG: Would you also include traditional manufacture from Asia, Africa?
SR: Yes, it could be really interesting, we have Francis Kerè here at the school, therefore of course you could also invite him but I think you may be even more fascinating to invite someone from his village, but it would be a challenge to integrate them in the Symposium.
PB,NC,GD,VG: Do you think the government representatives could be interested to participate in this kind of conferences?
SR: Certainly, from Switzerland I don’t really have a specific person. But I think that politicians are definitely very important in this kind of debate, nothing could be done without involving them.