Socrates and enthusiasm for straw: on ecology and a dubious ethos of technological determinism

Kolakowski, Marcin Mateusz (2013) Socrates and enthusiasm for straw: on ecology and a dubious ethos of technological determinism. Autoportret, 42 (3). pp. 27-32. ISSN 1730-3613

Socrates and Enthusiasm For Straw
Socrates and Enthusiasm For Straw: On Ecology and a Dubious Ethos of Technological Determinism. A debate about ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ definitions of sustainability
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Item Type:Article
Item Status:Live Archive


A debate about ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ definitions of sustainability in the form of a theatre play. Socrates meets various enthusiasts of eco-architecture to discuss how to interpret the concept of sustainability, which was famously defined by Brundtland Commision in ‘Our Common Future’.

The article shows how different data and concepts of embodied energy, life-time analyses or insulation properties could be manipulated in order to prove eco-friendliness of various products and building methods. The debate illustrates the claim made by Layard and Davoudi, who differentiates between ‘strong’ sustainable development, which encompasses both the need to restrict and to maintain ethical standards, and ‘weak’ sustainable development, which is satisfied with just a few changes within the present system.

The article debates which concept is closer to the original definition of ecology coined in 1866 by Ernst Haeckel in Generelle Morphologie, where he described ecology as a science focusing on relations between organisms and their surroundings. Various examples, tables and statistics show that even products which are harmful to the environment could be presented as eco-friendly if quantitative data are manipulated. On the one hand, these types of easy-to-measure information couldbe very seductive. On the other hand, however, they are misleading and constitute source of confusion for the building industry.

Socrates takes on a stand that is very philosophical: ‘Not everything that can be counted, counts. Not everything that counts can be counted’. He points out the consequences of a paradigm change as defined by Thomas Kuhn. Socrates suggests that when talking about energy and buildings, psychological aspects must also be taken into consideration. We should consider not only how many KW/h are needed per m2, but also how much happiness can be created by one m2. (

Keywords:Architecture, Sustainable architecture, Sustainable design and construction, Ecology, Life cycle analysis, Life cycle energy
Subjects:K Architecture, Building and Planning > K100 Architecture
J Technologies > J990 Technologies not elsewhere classified
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Architecture & Design > School of Architecture & Design (Architecture)
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ID Code:17912
Deposited On:20 Jul 2015 08:32

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