On the surface, Foster and Partners appear to be successful in its task to create a sustainable building with iconic aesthetics that meets political prerequisites. The contractors were happy, the building came in on time and under budget; the media and the public were happy with the stance the new government was taking on environmental issues and the regeneration of under privileged areas; and the government was happy with a successful building.
However, the building’s success as a sustainable structure is ambiguous. From the latest Energy Performance Operational Rating, the building was rated grade D, only slightly above a typical office building, a rating that doesn’t shed the best light on Britain as the forerunner of sustainable development.However the building is successful as an example of a sustainable building that uses the most up to date technology to create a environmental friendly structure, without compromising on the creation of iconic aesthetics.
This building is defining for an idea now synonymous with Foster & Partners – sustainability doesn’t have to be obvious or visible. The eco-technic approach uses up-to-date technology and non-traditional materials. The use of such materials is not usually associated with sustainable buildings, and is suggesting towards the future design for sustainable architecture.
The eco-technic approach, allows flexibility of design and materials, whereas the eco-centric method is limited to the use of natural materials. Although the use of these materials undermines the buildings sustainable credentials, as the amount of non-renewable energy that has been used in the creations of such materials is a lot larger than those of eco-centric design. The eco-technic architect would argue that even though there is a large amount of energy gone in to the construction of the building, this is off set by the reduction of non-renewable energy during the running of the building.
The eco-centric method of sustainability would not have been efficacious in the design of the city hall as it would have prevented the clients main aim- to represent London democracy as transparent and powerful, this is architectural represented through the use of glass and steel. There has been some negative response to the design, with the building been called a “crash helmet” or “glass testicle” . The obscurity of the design works in its favour, it intrigues people to look further and discover the reasoning behind the design.
The government, as a driving force for their electoral campaign, has adopted the sustainability of the building. The environmental campaigns that have been launched off the back of the GLA in City Hall, shows how strongly sustainability affects the voters, and the media coverage of the building has brought sustainability into the forefront of voters minds, the Mayor keeps introducing new schemes to further improve the buildings ecological footprint; this keeps reminding the public of what architecture can do to save the environment.
Foster & Partners is a global company, their design ethos can be applied anywhere around the world. Unlike the eco-centric approach the eco-technic design fits within the city environment. Built in a regeneration area, the location of the hall was included in the design competition, allowing Norman Foster to tackle another sustainable issue, that of space and redevelopment. The eco-technic approach allows the City Hall to “symbolises a new progressive agenda”[i], this portrays the GLA as forward thinking. By constructing an entirely new building to house the GLA, it separates this body from the previous council. This reduces the association between the two by the public.
Overall, although city halls sustainability is questionable, the eco-technic approach is the best method out of Guy & Farmers groups of green architecture. This is because it is the only method that meets the requirements of the building. The government, although using the sustainable aspect of the building as a propaganda tool, wanted the building to be firstly iconic and transparent; and they would compromise the sustainability of the building in order to create the illusion of themselves that such a building should portray. It was only Foster & Partners elliptical design that married the two ideas together.
[i] Merkel, Jayne “Along the Thames, Foster and Partners puts a new twist on government and gives green a different shpe with the highly accessible London City Hall” Architectual Record, vol.191, no.2 (Feb 2003) p.110