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Responsibility as an Object of Research

Responsibility is a key contemporary concept. In more and more areas, people are expected to assume greater responsibility, whether it’s private pension schemes as a citizen, democratic participation in civil society, or the social responsibility of companies. The Center for Responsibility Research (CRR) of The Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities analyzes the growing responsibilities placed on social players, institutions, and organizations from a cultural standpoint.

The concept of responsibility is very much the trend, not only in architecture and the construction industry, but in many other areas as well. Why is that?

There are a number of reasons. In the field of business and finance, we have found that economic processes cannot be reduced exclusively to profit orientation. They also depend on a basis of trust, value orientations, and responsibility cultures. We have recognized that global markets do not organize themselves coherently, but need responsible frameworks and players. Another reason that responsibility is a trend, is the field of sustainability. Nowadays, “assuming responsibility” means shouldering the burden for future generations. Political, economic, and social developments are investigated with regard to the quality of life of subsequent generations. If we carelessly squander our resources, there will be nothing left in the future. So we have to ensure that we don’t live at the expense of future generations.

"Nowadays, assuming responsibility means shouldering the burden for future generations."

What intentions are connected with the concept of responsibility?

On the one hand, a clear signal is being sent with the concept. Today, responsibility is a label that characterizes activities and ensures that certain standards, basic norms, and sustainability indicators are adhered to and taken into account. The concept indicates that someone is on the right track; that you can trust them. At the same time – and this is a much more problematic aspect – the concept of responsibility has a high rhetorical potential. Those who only show a willingness to take responsibility, without engaging in the corresponding activities, use the concept of responsibility as a misleading marketing instrument along the lines of “green washing” and thus conceal reality.

To what extent does the responsibility trend reflect a kind of uncertainty?

The more we talk about responsibility, the more uncertain we become. The trend towards responsibility is a reaction to a crisis affecting the financial markets, environmental areas, state planning, and many other fields. We have lost a feeling of certainty. Precisely the politicians often have no overview of how we can solve the problems. To calm thegeneral public, they talk more about responsibility. This is supposed to indicate that we will come to grips with things somehow.

How can ecological principles of responsibility be implemented in a market that is constantly geared to growth?

Ecological responsibility sets itself goals such as lower consumption of resources and the use of regenerative energies. These goals are coupled with cost savings in the medium and long term. We all know that energy costs will rise. Contractors, users, and customers therefore are attaching more and more importance to ecological factors that increase the market value and quality of products. In the best case, there is a win-win situation, where ecological and economic objectives are aligned under the banner of responsibility.

The construction industry consumes a considerable share of the resources. So should the goal be to dismantle rather than build new buildings?

For years, we have been discussing whether we have to move away from the growth path in keeping with the motto “less is more”. But this is already happening in a few areas. When buildings are built today, growth factors are considered in keeping with increasing resource and space consumption. We are no longer after growth no matter what, but consider the economic, social, and ecological costs in our growth goals. These aspects used to be left to future generations. Today, however, they are not completely externalized. As a result, growth can be managed and regulated more reasonably. At the same time, it is clear that our global market economy cannot continue to exist without a certain amount of growth. Therefore we have to solve growth problems by means of regulatory frameworks. It would be senseless to demand that individual players drop out of growth spirals if others don’t follow suit.

What role will architecture have to play in conjunction with the responsibility principles you have addressed?

Architecture is an integrative discipline tying together design, technology and everyday design, appearance and textural aspects, as well as many other factors that come together in a successful building. The link between these disparate elements makes architecture a model for future processes. Thus, architecture could become a new defining field. Architecture provides the design in a time when, what counts is to bring different elements under one roof – from technological aspects to lifestyle and aesthetic issues. This has a lot to do with responsibility principles because the core issue is to bring together good ideas and implement them practically.