Paul Hyett

The vice president of the Royal Institute of British Architects responds to the views of Martin Pawley on the futility of planning for sustainable development
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The Independent Online

Imagine city life today if the "Dirty Party" had succeeded in blocking 19th-century public health reforms. Imagine open sewers still running in our streets, contaminating water supplies and causing regular outbreaks of cholera. Imagine living in constant fear of the plague that killed over 20 per cent of London's population in 1665.

Imagine city life today if the "Dirty Party" had succeeded in blocking 19th-century public health reforms. Imagine open sewers still running in our streets, contaminating water supplies and causing regular outbreaks of cholera. Imagine living in constant fear of the plague that killed over 20 per cent of London's population in 1665.

In short, imagine a life of self-imposed misery as described by Martin Pawley, my fellow Architects' Journal columnist, who so pessimistically rejects mankind's quest for progress. A quest evident in 17th-century London's building controls following the Great Fire, in 19th-century public health legislation and, later, in the 1956 Clean Air Act which brought such benefit to our cities.

The current interest in sustainability and sustainable development, which Pawley dismisses, is just another chapter in the endeavour to provide safe and healthy conditions for human existence. The struggle intensifies with the more complex problems arising from the growth of cities, and our demands on resources. But intelligent progress relies on hope, social discipline and moral responsibility.

In ridiculing the promotion of sustainability "as a duty for architects", and the incorporation of "ecology" within architectural education, Pawley denies architecture's foremost duty: safe shelter. These RIBA initiatives should not be seen as constraints, but as encouragements of innovation and best-design practice.

Throughout history, building regulation and planning reform have been reactive, responding to problems after they occur. The sustainability agenda is anticipatory, and necessarily so, as the consequences of failure to protect our ecosystem from uncontrolled abuse will be irreversible. This is no time for conceit, complacency or despair.

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