As COP21 is underway in Paris, Curbed asked various architects on how the profession, practice, and discipline can help to fight climate change.
You can read the whole article here. Gladys’s extended features is below.
Borrowing from Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse”, the four stages of collapse due to climate change can be represented as followed: First stage is failure to anticipate climate change. Second stage is failure to perceive climate change once it arrives. Third stage is failure to solve it after becoming aware of climate change. Fourth stage, climate change becomes insolvable.
The architecture profession has contributed a fair amount to climate change when we went through stages one and two as building operations account for the largest single use of energy in the U.S. 47.6% of our energy use is attributed to that sector while 28.1% goes to transportation and 24.4% to industry. (Data: Architecture 2030.) Clearly, architects have a lot to do at this critical stage three when we have to solve climate change before it becomes insolvable. With so much urgency, there is still optimism for architects because as a profession, we can actually change all three energy use sectors by realigning a built environment that is sustainable by our planet’s carrying capacity.
I recently heard an alarming factoid from the International Living Building Challenge Institute: between 1976-2007, the U.S. spent $7.3 trillion on military intervention in the Middle East to protect our oil supply and that’s equivalent to spending $59,000 per US household to convert each one to a net zero energy home. That seems like a big misalignment in our priority in fighting climate change (or an indication of collapse from stages one to three). Architects can help fight climate change by designing buildings that only operate on clean energy with no fossil fuel source. Another way for reducing building energy use is to significantly cut energy consumption in buildings by leveraging passive strategies that are right for the climate zone.
In addition to reducing building energy use, we should think about building material carbon footprint as well. Architects need to creatively think of ways to reuse our existing building stock where it makes sense. Large number of buildings are bulldozed to make way for new buildings in neighborhoods that you can no longer recognize. Older buildings are built with layers of cultural influences and each one contribute to the character of distinct neighborhoods. It wasn’t too long ago that when our appliances broke down, we would take it to a repair shop, fix it and use it again. Nowadays, in our “throw-away” society, not only appliances but even buildings are disposable after a very short life cycle.
Having said that, buildings need to be designed with the mindset that it will last a long time so not only the spaces need to remain flexible for changes and inspirational to future generations, materials should be carefully considered for durability and do not contain harmful materials to human and the environment. Materials without toxins will enable us to reuse or recycle the building materials in the case that the building has out-lived its useful life. We can further reduce our building embodied carbon footprint by “right-sizing” our structures. U.S. has one of the largest average home size in the world. With the average size of 2,164sf, it is 2.5 times bigger than a home in Sweden (893sf) and U.K. (818sf). (Data: Shrinkthatfootprint.com.) Architects should definitely help their clients imagine smaller but more efficient spaces. Adaptive reusing our building, recycling toxin-free materials and right-sizing our structures are ways architects can help reduce the industry energy use as extracting material from our finite resources has serious climate change consequences.
Lastly, in terms of reducing our transportation energy footprint, architects can help by designing communities that are clustered around transit, jobs and amenities. These walkable, pedestrian-orientated neighborhoods will help reduce the reliance on fossil fuel transportation.
These are ways in which architects can help fight climate change by reducing all three major energy use sectors but there is also one resource we as architects need to protect and that is water. The scarcity of potable water in many areas around the world is a very serious concern. Climate change definitely plays a role in this together with our unsustainable water use pattern. Architects can help by siting projects in areas that have enough captured precipitation to meet the projected water use and by reducing/reusing/recycling water, much like all our other resources.