Sustainable Degrowth

Peter Szalay


“Anyone believing that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” Kenneth E. Boulding, economist

In the second week in May, demolition of one of the biggest industrial areas in Brno, Vlněna, began. The complex of generous multi-storey industrial halls and spectacular spaces will be flattened to allow the green meadow to see the growth of 80 thousand m2 of offices. Why isn’t it possible to squeeze this abstract amount of square metres and parking places into the wide-span reinforced concrete structures of old spinning mills, why is it necessary to replace them with new ones? The answers to these questions can’t be found in rational common sense thinking but in the logic of economic calculations, credit approvals, and stock exchange trading results. The paradox of today’s maximization of productivity and growth, that should prevent us from falling into a crisis, is that we don’t need the products any more, we need to maintain economic growth above all.

But where did architects’ pragmatic thinking, grounded in the needs of the physical world, go in this system? Where did architects lose their ambitions to transform society through new spatial concepts of real homes and places? Architecture is one of the spheres where accelerated production systems prove to be absurd; isn’t it high time we looked for different goals, different lifestyles architecture could fulfill? As architect and theorist Pier Vittorio Aureli said: “To say enough (instead of more) means to redefine what we really need to live a good life–that is, a life where less is just enough.”

This issue is a probe into the practice of architect “heretics” working beyond the paradigm of growth. It tells about architects and users of architecture who voluntarily settle for less, who look for solutions for a non-consumer and non-exploiting way of life, but don’t step into the realm of asceticism where pleasure is forbidden.

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