The Arizona Desert Lamp

Unsustainable usage of the word ‘sustainable’

Posted in Campus, UA Transformation Plan by Evan Lisull on 4 March 2009

Panda, ConfusedWhen the white paper that proposed to devote an entire college towards sustainability was released, I chortled in disbelief, certain that this proposal would get dumped along the way. Sadly, this proposal has gone on. From today’s Wildcat:

While the UA continues to undergo various changes, students in the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture might have one more matter to become accustomed to: a name change.

At a Dean’s forum Tuesday, College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture Dean Janice Cervelli announced to architecture students that the new name of the college might soon be the College of Sustainable Design.

“We’re really trying to focus, I mean like a laser, on sustainable design,” Cervelli said.

Of course Dean Cervelli would refer to ‘laser vision‘. After all, the year 2029 is only a couple of decades away; and seeing how humans are as a species unsustainable, logic naturally dictates that robots will eventually have to blow them away by means of nuclear war in order to save the planet.

Anyways, I wrote the following hypothetical dialogue at the time of the white paper’s release, :

HAY: Golly gee, Robbie, this paper sure uses the word “sustainable” a lot.

SHELTON: Silly Meredith, of course it does –  Sustainable means ‘budget neutral’ !

HAY: Oh, right — it means that it can be sustained on the budget.

Sometimes, sarcasm reveals kernels of truth:

The idea for the name change came from Provost Meredith Hay, Cervelli said.

“She highly suggested – which, when your boss says that to you, you know that it’s serious – that we work the title of sustainability into the college somehow,” Cervelli, said.

. . .

“We said that it’s really important … that we never let people forget that we do architecture, landscape architecture and planning,” said Cervelli.

Well, gosh – if you do “architecture, landscape architecture, and planning,” might it not behoove you to to refer to yourselves as the “College of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Planning”? If ‘sustainable design’ is indeed a subset of ALAP- for, presumably, you have to learn how to build horse before you can learn how to make a house ‘sustainable’ – shouldn’t it fall under the broader title?

It’s also useful to remember that ‘sustainable’ and its relations are a rather trendy term, much like their forefather of ‘environmental’. Imagine if this push had occurred a decade ago – would the architecture go by the title of the ‘College of Environmental Design’? Would the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences be refered to as the “College of Empowerment”?

Forgotten here is the fact that these schools should not be teaching policy positions, but skills and ideas. To rename the school from ‘architecture’ to ‘sustainable design’ is to replace a word that describes a skill with a word with a political agenda – “sustainable” architecture is not a politically-neutral position, as popular as it may be.

Yet even worse than all of these objections is the fact that ASU already has a School of Sustainability. According to the school’s “About” page, the school “embodies the design aspirations of the New American University.” In wake of the UA’s plan (to be fair, dictated by ABOR) to increase enrollment, it seems that administration is intent on turning the UA into ASU-lite.

The white paper proposed to incorporate the art school under the college’s control, but the art community managed to avoid this fate by incorporating themselves far more sensibly into the Colleges of Letters, Arts, and Science. Yet Sustainability needs food, it must be fed! – and so Provost Hay proposes to instead offer the College of Engineering. Mercifully, Dean Cervelli shot this idea down:

For the CALA, being in the same college as engineering does not appear to be favorable.

“We have nothing against engineering, they’re fine folks, great profession, however … it can create negative perceptions across the country that you are technologically oriented, almost to the extent where your design emphasis is suffering,” Cervelli said. “It’s a prejudice, it’s a perception, but it’s real.”

According to Cervelli, only three out of 120 architecture programs in the country are in the same college as an engineering program: Ohio State University, Oklahoma State University and Washington State University. None of those programs are ranked, she said.

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2 Responses

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  1. […] on the basis of media focus – is even worse. Even today, we see our own university moving towards renaming the architecture college the “College of Sustainable Design.” Had we the same attitudes […]

  2. […] Dr. Meredith Hay […]


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