To reflect on the prehistory of sustainability is not to find ‘precedents’ of practices that give us tips for the present. Rather these reflections aim to mobilize critical perspectives on the shifting definitions of the term and on the practices that are advanced in its name so as to guard against absolutes. Can architects have partnerships with techno-scientific fields without subsuming design to managerialism and anti-intellectual postures? Can ecological problems be debated in architectural circles without resorting to eco-determinism? Can architects embrace an ethical imperative without resorting to moralistic prescriptions or grand meta-narratives?