The Sustainable City chronicles London’s eco-design innovation

Urban areas provide the best environment for ultra-low impact living; this is the premise of Harriet Thorpe’s new book, The Sustainable City, who brings together the architecture shaping London’s quiet green revolution

When it comes to the future of the planet, the news is not good. Yet if you choose not to simmer in the relentless soup of negativity, The sustainable city is a welcome call to arms. Written by Harriet Thorpe, formerly of architectural firm Wallpaper*, with photographs and portraits by photographer Taran Wilkhu, The sustainable city is a deep dive into London’s well-established role as a place of innovation and invention in the face of adversity.

Phoenix Gardens Community Building, Office Sian Architecture + Design (photograph by Taran Wilkhu)

The adversity, of course, is climate change. As Thorpe points out, building construction and occupancy is responsible for a large and seemingly insurmountable share of global emissions. Add to that all the traffic and industry that comes with it, and cities account for about 60% of all the world’s resources.

So why are cities seen as the glittering gems of a zero-carbon future? Thorpe addresses this paradox in his introduction, “How can a city be sustainable? “. The answers, broadly speaking, are space, pace, planning, and resources. Denser living reduces transport emissions, freeing up green spaces to promote health and biodiversity (and even food production). Careful planning that recognizes the importance of connectivity as well as the intrinsic value of existing buildings makes density even more challenging.

15 Clerkenwell Close, Amin Taha Architects (photograph by Taran Wilkhu)

The sustainable city aims to bring statistics to life. It identifies six key factors behind sustainable architecture and development – using wood, reusing existing buildings, making structures self-sufficient, improving the incorporation of greenery, leading the way with energy reduction (and self -generation) and, finally, “creating places that interest people”.

Parsloes Park, Yinka Ilori (photograph by Taran Wilkhu)

The latter is highlighted in numerous case studies, which are drawn from a mix of projects large and small, built in and around London over the past two decades or so.

Encompassing private dwellings, offices, open spaces and community-oriented structures, the book captures a time of change. In particular, it highlights the moment when leftist self-builders and eco-evangelists suddenly found themselves many years ahead of the curve.

Cork House, Nimtim Architects (photograph by Taran Wilkhu)

The sustainable city is highly recommended, a book of tools for change that should inspire practitioners to do better, while giving potential clients insight and inspiration on the power of silent change. §

Private house, Hugh Strange Architects (photograph by Taran Wilkhu)

Taran Wilkhu and Harriet Thorpe