Living in the year 2022, we are indefinitely afloat with the climate crisis in the world. Now more than ever, the world needs to begin implementing viable solutions, and a pragmatic cum holistic approach to tend to the crisis. While there is no one solution to the multifaceted obstacles, the ‘climate emergency’ continues to express a renewed ubiquitous focus on tackling global warming. As you know, we have been able to incur climate changes evidently due to severe heat waves, melting icebergs, and increasing sea levels which is a reminder of our responsibility to protect the environment. Earth day is a yearly reminder for us to address the profound pressures put by us on the environment, in both personal and professional magnitudes.

Being a part of the architecture, building, and construction industry, we have a responsibility toward the environment to create a healthier standard of living without doing any harm to the ecosystem. The building and construction industry is a major contributor to the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air. The use of cement alone emits 8% of global emissions. According to the 2019 Global status report coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme for Buildings and construction, the final energy use for the construction and building sector accounted for 39 percent. Co2 gas is known as the chief agent for climate change that traps the solar energy in the atmosphere due to which the planet is heating much faster, thereby making architects eminently responsible. With the increase in the concentration of CO2 gas in the atmosphere, many architects have been rethinking the ways to design a building. Many architects now opt for sustainable design and green homes to reduce the emission of harmful gases. Sustainability has been a part of the architecture community for more than a decade, but it is nearly not enough. Several architecture firms have committed to the AIA’s (American Institute of Architects) 2030 commitment to carbon neutrality, but only a few have reported data in 2016, and only a handful have reported achieving the intermediary goal of reducing the intensity of energy use in their building by 70 percent.

The architecture industry is profoundly interlaced with climate change through materials, design, energy, and ideas that provide a problem as well as a solution. Addressing the disparities associated with climate change will enhance the skills required to face the upcoming challenges. A starting point would be for the architectural community to embrace the opportunity that presents itself with a net-zero emission that will transform the economy of several nations. It is essential to focus on the operating energy of new building constructions. 

As Carl Elefante, FAIA, 2018 AIA President, said, “a majority of the buildings that already exist are the greenest. In India, we see numerous buildings that are undertaken for redevelopment purposes. Nevertheless, demolition of buildings and reconstruction often come with a massive carbon footprint. The go-to solution for existing buildings is deep energy retrofits. Retrofitting achieves a high-performance standard that is critical to reducing near carbon emissions. These upgrades provide for a passive design strategy along with improved resilience to environmental hazards.

Using concrete and steel in buildings creates a mass carbon footprint resulting in global warming. The carbon footprint of a building is determined by the materials used in the construction and is known as the building’s embodied carbon. Among the highest carbon-emitting materials include steel, concrete, aluminum, and foam insulation. Going carbon-negative is the key concern for architects. Carbon negative refers to removing excess carbon from the atmosphere than what it emits over the lifespan of a building. In addition to the existing carbon in the atmosphere, a carbon-negative building also eliminates the operational carbon generated by the running power performances and heat accumulated by the same along with the carbon released due to transportation of the materials. An example of carbon-negative buildings is Snohetta’s Powerhouse Telemark Office which generates enough surplus energy during its operations to compensate for the total operational and embodied carbon it may carry over its lifespan.

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Giant photovoltaic canopy at the roof of Snohetta’s Powerhouse_©Dezeen

A known solution to all is the use of renewable energy. Renewable energy is not only installing solar panels on the roof of our buildings but a low-cost efficiency solution. After achieving a low energy consumption by using smart design for building efficiency, the remainder of the energy should be used for renewables. As envisioned, bearing the operational cost to zero is the ultimate goal to achieve by introducing green energy and procuring low-carbon energy modules for the building. One of the most sustainable ways to design is by using the Passivhaus energy performance standard. The Passivhaus energy standard encourages architects to design a building with high levels of insulation and airtightness so that it requires minimal artificial heating and cooling.

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Goldsmith street social housing scheme_©Dezeen

Reversible architecture is a concept that ensures the entire building is deconstructable at the end of its lifetime. The components and materials utilized in the buildings can be reused without going to waste. BakerBrown studio recently designed a pavilion for the Glyndebourne opera house in England that will acclimatize champagne corks, seafood shells, and salvaged ash trees as building materials. Based on the principles of circular economy and relying on the use of waste materials aims to minimize the issue of the carbon footprint of the building. The reversible design for the pavilion is incorporated such that each material allows for deconstruction to ensure recyclability and reuse by bolting the materials together rather than using any kind of adhesive.

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Glyndebourne Opera House_©Dezeen

Transforming the Architecture, Building, and Construction industry with a sustainable effort to reduce carbon emissions will accomplish a greater need for the climate crisis. In architectural terms, climate change is the fundamental design objective to be resolved in our time. As architects, we are taught to preserve our environment by designing a building that will cater to the needs of all. Sustainability is only one aspect of the architecture industry that is in dire need of flourishing at certain times. With the help of innovations and new technologies emerging every day; architects are pursuing to discover a solution to create a world that will be free from the concrete jungle that we live in.

References:

  1. AIA [Online]

Available at: https://www.aia.org/articles/6074306-four-ways-architects-can-fight-climate-cha

  1. Archdaily [Online]

Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/931240/the-facts-about-architecture-and-climate-change

  1. Architectural Digest [Online]

Available at: https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/climate-change-design-architecture

  1. Dezeen [Online]

Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2021/04/22/architecture-climate-change-earth-day/

Author

Abha Haval is an Architect who has a vivid imagination of this world. She believes that every place has a story to tell and is on a mission to photograph the undiscovered whereabouts of various cities and narrate the story of its existence.

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