“‘Six Cylinder Limited’?! What do petrol-guzzling cars have to do with reducing the environmental impact of the built environment?!…”
Simple. When I was 16 years old and living in New Hampshire, I was handed-down a 1965 Ford Mustang from my older brother. It had a six-cylinder, Ford 205 engine, with a three-speed manual transmission and was midnight blue. I drove it until I was 22, when it was sold on to the music teacher from a nearby school. Those 6 years came with their own – very unique – lessons and reflections in sustainability. The car had a strong influence on my worldview, and how I approach built environment projects.
Sustainability is about making sure that ‘low-energy’ designs actually perform in-use.
In 2004 – when the Mustang was nearly 40 years old – it was more fuel-efficient than a brand new, European-made estate car. The Mustang got about 26-27mpg (less, if all my sports kit was in the boot), whereas my parents’ new car got only 24mpg despite fuel efficiency being one of its key marketing points.
Passive and adaptive design strategies should be the first approach for providing comfort to users
Newer cars have air conditioning and heated seats, which were nice perks with New England weather. However, I survived many seasons in the Mustang – without ill effect – by rolling down windows in summer, and dressing warm in winter or tossing a blanket across the front seat.
Sustainability is about ensuring that building users have a Soft Landing, and are supported in learning about their new building, so they can use and maintain it properly.
When I got the car, my Dad taught me how to maintain and repair it and helped me distinguish between the car’s quirks, simple issues and serious problems. The learning curve took several years, but he was always available on the phone or in the garage to help troubleshoot problems and teach me little tricks to keep it running well.
Ensuring maintainability and robustness are critical to any sustainable technology or building.
Whilst the Mustang broke down, frequently – often the day before a planned trip to the beach – it usually only required simple, straight-forward repairs that could be carried out without the aid of hydraulic lifts, specialist knowledge, complex diagnostic equipment or expensive tools. The parts were cheap and generic. Most of the car’s engine and drive-chain could be maintained pro-actively and at minimum expense, as key parts were not sealed in protective encasements.
Good design needs to suit its users
While the lack of encasements meant that parts clogged more frequently, I enjoyed trips to the university student auto shop to keep it running. I liked tinkering, pulling things apart, putting them back together, and watching the men at the shop stare while a woman did something other than just change her oil. The car suited me perfectly. In the hands of someone else, it could have been a disaster and a nuisance beyond description.
Local fabrication and supply chains help lower the embodied energy and immediate environmental impact of any form of manufacturing or production
In 1965, the vast majority of Ford’s manufacturing was located in the mid-western United States. Most of the parts were fabricated and assembled in the country in which the car was eventually used. Whereas, modern cars are often shipped from overseas, or assembled with parts that have travelled through complex, global supply chains.
Sustainability is about ensuring that communities have and maintain their own sense of place. Small businesses, heritage and local culture need to be prioritized and nurtured.
With a top-speed of about 65mph (and, lacking shoulder harnesses, safety cages, crumple zones and airbags), the Mustang was mostly driven on back roads (at a leisurely 40mph), rather than major motorways. Pit stops were usually in small towns and villages, where family-owned businesses were the norm, rather than national chains. I got to know the villages and towns in New England, their people and shops, and enjoy the local culture and heritage of places that would never be seen from the more direct routes.
Sustainability is about bringing people together
One of my favourite past-times was to drive to the local ice cream stands on summer evenings, with a friend or two. After getting our ice cream, we would just lean against the car and chat. Nearly every time we would be approached by people who told us how much they liked the car and shared their own stories. “I remember when my aunt got a ’67. She always smiled and wore white gloves when she drove it…”, “My brother had a black fastback. He was the captain of the football team, and the coolest guy in our high school…”, “I took my first love on our first date in my mom’s red ’65 convertible…”. We rarely made it through an ice cream without making a connection with a new person and hearing some of their story.
Sustainability is about getting the longest possible lifespan out of any investment in natural capital. Design quality is critical to that.
The car was beautiful, meticulously detailed, comfortable, and had a character that made it almost universally irresistible. As a result, all of its owners cared for it and maintained it, and ensured that it lasted until the present day. The natural capital that was invested in its manufacture is still being put to good use, nearly half a century later. The quality of its design is one of the reasons it is still in use – people make the effort to maintain the things they love.
That 1965 Mustang embodied what sustainability is all about. So, let’s get cracking, and start making buildings work like well-oiled machines.
Lisa Ann Pasquale – Director