Reading Report – Architecture for a Sustainable Future #1

Book Name:
Architecture for a Sustainable Future  All about the Holistic Approach in Japan

By: Architectural Institute of Japan (AIJ)

Reported by: Sheau-Chyng Wong (M2)

Chapter 1 / The Background and Principles of Architecture for a Sustainable Future


As suggested by its title, this chapter introduces the background of this book and the basic concepts of architecture to achieve a sustainable future through eight sub-chapters written by six authors, most of whom are professors of architecture from prominent universities in Japan.

The chapter begins with the discussion of relationships between environmental issues and architecture, followed by an introduction of the definition of sustainable architecture within the Japanese context. Professor Iwamura, borrowing the definition from the Kohjien dictionary, explains that ‘environment’ is “everything that surrounds Earth’s creatures and affects them in some way”; beyond a person’s home, natural and social environments ripple out from the street, to the neighborhood, to the town, and subsequently connected to the regional and global environment. He then emphasizes on the need to understand the practice of “reducing environmental impact while improving the quality of life”.

Professor Murakami introduces the definition (by Architectural Institute of Japan) of ‘sustainable building’ as one that is designed “to save energy and resources, recycle materials and minimize the emission of toxic substances throughout its life cycle, to harmonize with the local climate, traditions, culture and the surrounding environment, and to be able to sustain and improve the quality of human life while maintaining the capacity of the ecosystem at the local and global levels”. He later makes a brief comparison among four leading environmental labeling systems (BREEAM, BEPAC, LEED and GBTool) before presenting CASBEE, Japan’s own labeling system. CASBEE is based on a criterion of environmental efficiency, which is calculated from two factors: Quality of Life (output) and Environmental Loading (input).

The later part of the chapter focuses on the ‘new concepts’ and ‘new paradigm’ for architectural design. Nagashima first introduces the ‘glocal approach’ of future architecture, which refers to “the assessment and manipulation of the interrelationship between global and local paradigms”. In the pursuit of sustainable architecture, taking a ‘glocal’ viewpoint means including human psyche and ideas, value judgments and culture, and social, economic and political systems stem from them. Professor Yashiro continues this discussion by raising the importance of multi-stakeholder communication and participation in the architectural process.

Professor Iwamura closes the chapter by highlighting the need for “integration and collaboration” of various types of knowledge and expertise. Traditional wisdoms and regional methods and materials need not be put aside when new technologies are adopted to improve the efficient use of energy and resources. Moreover, improving the awareness among the community is an equally important process for the ‘integration’ of sustainable architecture. Finally, ‘collaboration’ among stakeholders in the architectural process, which include public- and private-sectors, planners, architects, construction professionals and local community members, is crucial to the creation of a sustainable society that is beyond buildings themselves.

Reporter’s Own Thoughts

I find the Japanese definition of ‘sustainable building’ rather interesting: While the emphasis on energy, resources and recycling are commonly the focus subjects in sustainable building worldwide, the concept of harmoniz[ing] with the local climate, traditions, culture and the surrounding environment is somewhat unfamiliar outside of Japan especially to the Western culture.

I also look forward to reading the remaining chapters of the book especially Chapter 4, where social systems, architects’ roles and responsibilities, etc., will be discussed in terms of their influence on sustainable architecture in Japan. I also have no doubt that my research will be greatly influenced by the many great articles presented in this book.

(P. S. I also appreciate the illustrations throughout this book, many of which are hand sketches by the authors.)