Creating cities that are truly sustainable

16 May 2016
Mario Cucinella
MCA Parramatta Square, Stage 5 + 6 - Architectural Design Excellence Competition in Sydney

Sustainability expert and award-winning Italian architect Mario Cucinella is in New Zealand this week to discuss his theory of Creative Empathy.

Creative Empathy is a vision for sustainable building where the relationship between architecture and engineering becomes genetic, and sustainable features are no longer a fashionable accessory.

“For far too long we have believed in the clear and simple illusion of technology, that we were going to be able to control everything artificially: light, air conditioning. Instead, we have to imagine buildings that only have a minimum of visible technology, and maximise instead the efficiency of form. These buildings will possess a high degree of empathy, a creative empathy,” says Cucinella.

Cucinella’s view is that sustainability is diversity. It cannot be universal by definition but is against the flattening and simplification of architectural language that creates buildings indifferent to specific places – therefore is against globalisation. The sustainability Mario Cucinella Architects (MCA) employs is the creation of value, whereby the definition of value is not only economic and aesthetic but a qualitative architecture of belonging.

Speaking as part of the Fast Forward Lecture Series, he will discuss this current indifference of architecture to place, culture and energy. He believes that many of today’s cities have been arrogantly planned without listening to the voice of its people. As a result many international building models are not suitable to local climate and conditions, turning architecture into a global energy problem, not the opportunity it should be to create cities in which people want to live, work, play and move around.

He continues: “Energy is an invisible issue; nobody can see it, but it is a truly global, planetary issue, and each of us can make a significant contribution in fighting against the decadence of the building sector and in favour of a true reconciliation with nature.”

“Nobody, least of all politicians, have been willing to understand the spirit of their own cities, their cultural DNA, their calling and aspirations. Therefore, what we have witnessed in our culture, is a construction of inadequate buildings, much loved by the financial markets, but not by the people.”

Cucinella is the founder of Building Green Futures, a non-profit organisation improving living conditions and access to resources in developing countries through integrating sustainable architecture and renewable energy; as well as the professional training School of Sustainability in Bologna, one of Italy’s leaders in sustainable design thinking.

He has found, time and time again, through his research and workshops, that what people ask for (more public parks, more vegetable gardens, more squares and streets for pedestrians, more respect, more clean air, and more care for their children) compared to what they are getting is an environmental lie – a totally alien image of the city.

“Current building models lead us to believe that we are constructing extraordinary cities and astonishing buildings, while we know nothing about their relationship to the urban context and to human beings, or to technology and the environment, all of which becomes secondary, if not irrelevant. We are left with buildings that defy the laws of gravity, or worse, of good taste. They are buildings that desperately try to look modern but in ways that are far from the culturally refined ideals they pursue, and more often than not, they only create a sense of estrangement.”

Ahead of speaking to an audience of students, academics, architects and the public at the University of Auckland this week Cucinella calls for; “A new, true, and peaceful student revolution, one that demands from their universities more expertise, reliability, and quality teaching, and programmes where the study of the environment would be a mandatory subject in all curricula.”

Calling on his architect peers in Australia and New Zealand Cucinella says: “It is time to restore architecture to its true dignity. It is the social responsibility of our profession to transform sustainability from something superficial, accessorial, or fashionable into a new approach to architecture, in which environmental aspects, consumption, and comfort, become top priorities, thus laying the foundations for a new idea of beauty.

“The technological, performance-based vision should give way to the vision of beauty, of emotions, of the pleasure of being together and sharing a common space.”

“We need to work every day at improving our work, trying to create buildings which are more beautiful, both inside and out, and which will mark the beginning of a new era: the ecological era. Now is the time to believe in a dream of cities which are more livable and leave behind the world of illusion and environmental lies.”

Fast Forward Lecture
When: Tuesday 17th May, 6.30 – 8.30pm
Where: Engineering Lecture Theatre 439, Building 401, 20 Symonds Street, Auckland
What: “Creative Empathy” lecture by Mario Cucinella part of the Fast Forward guest lecture series Taking
on the City/Taking on Practice 2016
Cost: Free
Booking: Register on