Sustainable Cities™

Cameron Sinclair: Diversity and Complexity in a Simple World

In this interview, Cameron Sinclair, founder of Architecture for Humanity and the Open Architecture Network, discusses how the variations of human life found in a city ultimately contribute to its sustainabiltiy.  Adaptation is more important than replication, he tells us.

Q: What are the three qualities that should characterize a sustainable city?
Mobility: 'For me, mobility is a big issue-how we transport ourselves in the city. When you look at New York, it's actually one of the most sustainable cities in the world, just because of the sheer number of people that take public transportation versus use cars. It doesn't seem like that because our roads are clogged, but it actually is a very sustainable city.'

Technical Aspects: 'We've gotten very involved in the technical aspects, of how to make a city zero carbon or energy neutral, and it's certainly needed. We need to be much more sustainable.'

Social Cohesion: 'Number three, which I think is vitally important, if not the most important thing in a city, is social cohesion…. You can have every variation of human life in a city. You can be a playboy bachelor that goes out at night. You can be a young family with a child that walks to school every day and then goes off to work. You can be a couple that's retired, using the last few years of their life to really enjoy being in a city. If you can have that complexity of life within a city, then it means that there's stability and there's also a sense of cohesion.'

Q: What are the challenges that top the to-do list in cities around the world?
'You have to understand your own culture, your own issues, and how to take some of these best practices and adapt them. I think that adaptation is actually much more important than replication.'

'There has to be an honest dialogue between politicians and the people. As much as the people have to trust politicians, politicians have to trust the people, and if there isn't that two-way interchange-honest, authentic interchange-then you're just creating a veil.'

Q: What are the most promising initiatives that would make living in cities more sustainable?

'I'm obsessed with diversity and complexity in a simple world. We have a fairly simple world. We live, we eat, we work, we sleep, we die. That's it, and everything else is everything else. But the fact is that we live in very complex systems, and not everything is right for everybody…. There's no blueprint for it.'

About Cameron Sinclair

Cameron-Sinclair-photo-193x Cameron Sinclair co-founded Architecture for Humanity in 1999, after studying architecture at the University of Westminster and Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. Now the organisation's Executive Director and "eternal optimist," Cameron Sinclair works to strengthen communities and to address humanitarian crises by providing professional architectural services to those in need. The organisation has grown to include 40,000 architecture and design professionals and operate in 14 countries.

In 2007, Cameron Sinclair co-founded Open Architecture Network, an online forum that aims to improve living conditions through sustainable design and other innovative architectural solutions. The organization employs techniques such as creative commons licensing to disseminate ideas around the globe.

Cameron Sinclair has received numerous awards, including the 2005 INDEX: Award, the 2006 TED Prize, and the 2008 National Design Award. He has also been named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and has spoken at many events around the world.

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014