It is widely recognised that the achievement of a sustainable built environment requires holistic design practices and approaches that are capable of balancing the varied, and often conflicting, demands of environmental, social and economic concerns. However, academics and practitioners have recently highlighted, and expressed concerns about the knowledge gap that currently exists within environmental policy, research and practice between understandings of the technical performance of buildings and their social meaning and relevance. This paper acknowledges these concerns and is developed from the author’s own direct experiences of practice-led research and active participation in design-build projects. It argues for a theoretically-informed and socially-engaged approach to built environment research, pedagogy and practice that seeks to encourage an integrative understanding of the design, realisation and use of sustainable architecture. The paper draws on the Philosophy of Technology and in particular the work of Andrew Feenberg to analyse the buildings and to propose an integrated and inclusive framework for understanding sustainable design that acknowledges not just what the built environment does, but also what it means. It also suggests that what a building means also informs what it can do, and for whom. Although the technical and social dimensions of design can be interpreted as distinct practices and are often institutionally separated, this paper argues that the realisation of sustainable design must seek a conscious interaction and interchange between these two differentiated dimensions.
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