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7 Ways Architecture Can Help To Tackle Climate Change

Our buildings consume 35% of all generated energy and 60% of all electricity. Could then be safe to say architecture should play a key role when it comes to take action on global warming?

Since the Industrial revolution, we have been building in isolation from the environment and this has deeply contributed to the change in the behaviour of the planet. Consequently, the world is now full of buildings consuming much more energy than necessary to deliver the services their owners and occupants need.

It’s a well-known fact that the construction sector is responsible for 30% of the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere. Some reports elevate this figure to 50%. In any case, experts worry about how high this percentage is for only one industry.

The list of what we could call ‘human mistakes’ is long, but when it comes to global warming and carbon footprints, one of them stands out among the others: our buildings consume 35% of all generated energy and 60% of all electricity. Therefore, it is possible to say architects play a key role when it comes to climate change, since the homes, offices, schools, stores, and shopping centres we’re currently building have the ability to worsen or alleviate the emission of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Traditionally, architectural associations have not really agreed in taking measures to address climate change. But in recent years we have been witnessing a thoughtful engagement in practices that lead to better building performance and a transition to a clean energy future.

Conferences being held around the world show that there’s a growing market awareness and a desire to move towards more energy efficient buildings, sustainable initiatives, and ways to reuse and adapt materials.

 

There’s obviously still a long road ahead, but architects who are invested in building sustainability advise to put these seven guidelines into action to minimise building’s carbon footprint:

  • Answering key questions before development. Planning before the project even begins is crucial. The architect will question how the building will affect the climate. They will get to know how the construction will use resources. Then the architect will try to recognise if there’s a more effective way to do it.
  • Water efficiency. A major factor contributing to the carbon footprint of a building is the amount of energy expended to supply, treat and use its water. Designing elements like rain gardens or rooftop gardens help rain and storm water penetrate into the ground instead of letting it run off.
  • Lighting efficiency. Lighting accounts for around 40% of the energy used in a typical commercial building. The most sustainable source of lighting is daylight, but both day and electric lighting should be considered equally when designing a building. Improving penetration of daylight can significantly reduce a building’s usage of energy.
  • Usage of recycled materials. Construction projects account for millions of tonnes of waste generated every year. Waste from construction, demolition and excavation represents 59% of the total UK waste. Architects can reduce it by reusing on-site materials, which in turn would help improve air quality and reduce landfill waste.
  • Achieving the lowest energy usage possible. By using high efficiency equipment it’s possible to plan and execute a project achieving the lowest energy usage possible. Also, a building’s carbon footprint can be reduced by sourcing its energy from environmentally responsible sources, or by generating renewable energy on-site.
  • Going regional. When it comes to choosing materials, distance matters. The transportation of material that is shipped from another country turns out into significant environmental impact. Carbon emissions could simply be reduced by shortening the transportation distance.
  • Location. Where a building is built will impact the carbon footprint and the potential for carbon emissions in the landscape. When involved in a construction project, it is not usually possible to choose the location, but highly efficient buildings should be oriented to maximise north and south-facing glazing. Also, the building being near public transportation will reduce its carbon footprint.

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