After describing the background context to the western concept of suburbia and the reasons why established practices and lifestyle are unsustainable, this research explores the origins of sustainable design in early shelters and the current debate on designing for sustainable urban development. It aims to identify emerging priorities and implications for contemporary architectural practice in Australia today. It explores what is meant by sustainable development and social sustainability and investigates the contribution made by research on recent initiatives for sustainable urban development in western societies. The need to discard the mind set of the energy demanding nineteenth century industrial model of building for one that likens a building to a plant that is a living part of the ecology is reinforced. Through analysis of the literature and identification of existing sets of principles for environmental sustainable development, a master set of principles is formulated and used as a checklist to assess the efficacy of one significant urban development project. This case study focuses on Kelvin Grove Urban Village, Australia's first master planned medium to high density, mixed-use development that integrates education, residential, business, cultural and leisure activities in an inner-city environment. The results showed that this development was very well planned and mechanisms were incorporated to continue the project in a sustainable way. The success in achieving an ecological balance between economic, social and environmental sustainability (triple-bottom-line theory) was well supported although its review process identified some issues for better practices in the future.
As a result of the case study the master set of principles for environmental sustainable development were refined to assist architects, builders, clients and other stakeholders in choosing to take a more authentic approach to sustainable design for urban living. In summary, these principles encompass ecology, fit, people, processes, materials, resources, regulations, technology, community, education and research, performance and transformation. In addition, seven emerging priorities were identified that refer to community education, industry education and upskilling, attitudinal change, aiming for a transformational strategy, comprehensive research, consistent action by local councils, and identification of clear actions for individuals to consciously contribute to sustainability. Implications of this research suggest that architects today have entered into a new era with new challenges and responsibilities. While they have the potential to be pivotal in facilitating sustainable development there are significant challenges. These challenges relate to new knowledge and communication skill needs; keeping abreast of new innovative technologies; raising awareness in the industry; need for leadership and coherent and consistent regulations, policy and processes; and dealing with limitations to what the architect can achieve in terms of facilitating transformative design.