The architect has always been interested in the social and cultural dimensions while creating architecture for people to last, with the help of building science and technology. Science could solve some problems, but is yet to solve many of the problems of urbanization in human history. Perhaps many of the problems can only be solved with careful understanding of human behavior, social intercourse, and economics in relation to the urban environments and organizations, and the natural environment simultaneously.

There seemed to be a divide between the way an engineer and an architect think and practice in making a building and a piece of architecture, where the former is highly mathematical, and the latter deals with cultural poetics and a whole range of social and technical issues of which the physics of the environment is but one dimension (Bay and Ong 2006). It may appear natural in this age of environmental crisis and rapid urban development in many cities that the current Ecologically Sustainable Design (ESD) system, which is mainly based on science of the physical world, would be readily accepted by the architect in practice and education.

Many of the current ESD guidelines can contribute to the avoidance of a further decay of the earth, thus preventing droughts and floods, etc., and hope to maintain the status quo of the environment for all the “business as usual” social-economic activities. With more world leaders of the developed world agreeing in principle on the need to address climate change, perhaps a lot more will be done based on the engineering models for ecologically friendly planning, commerce, industry, and design. There could be a cognitive bias3 of overconfidence and systemic error that the predominantly engineering focus to keep climate change at bay will solve the problem of sustainability in various parts of the world. The current limited concept of “ecological” or the “green” design does contribute to sustainability, but is quite limited and not the whole picture of sustainability.

The concept of sustainability involves the dynamic and complex balance of environmental (man-made and natural), economic and social dimensions, from many earlier sources including the theory of the Third Ecology

(Chermayeff and Tzonis 1971) about social ecology directly related to the man-made urban fabric, and recently, the much accepted pervasive framework of the Brundtland Commission Report 1987: Our Common Future, which included more discussions about the interrelatedness with economic equity and the natural environment. Foremost and ultimately it is about promoting and ensuring social quality of living now and sustaining that into the future, for all nations, the rich and the poor, through solving the matrix of social, economic, and environmental problems.

From the perspective of the theory and practice of architecture, this paper discusses the following issues:

  • 1.

    Belief in science, disenchantment, symbol of failure of modern architecture – Pruitt Igoe;

  • 2.

    An anti-thesis to Pruitt Igoe – Bedok Court;

  • 3.

    The cultural concerns and preparametric design thinking process of the architect;

  • 4.

    Architecture, social science, cultural value, social capital, behavior, and ESD;

  • 5.

    A Fourth Ecology, multi-disciplinary research by architects, social scientists, and engineers.

This content is only available as a PDF.