Architecture is all around us and most of us don’t even think about it. The built environment shapes how we think and provides (or denies) us with options on how to navigate the world and engage with it. This means that if we change the built environment we can change the planet. Years of thoughtless car friendly development have contributed greatly to the climate crisis and now architects are doing what they can to mitigate harm.
In May, some of the world’s leading UK-based architects joined forces to call for industry-led action on the twin issues of climate change and biodiversity loss. The “Architects Declare” group includes firms such as Foster + Partners, David Chipperfield Architects, and Zaha Hadid Architects.
In July,we reportedthat the City of Utrecht Council, in collaboration with advertising agency Clear Channel, has transformed 316 bus stops across the city into “bee stops.” The adaption involved installing green roofs onto the bus stops, creating bee-friendly spaces for the endangered species.
The standard North American home (pictured above) is horrible inefficient and quite bad for the environment. As the climate crisis conies to worsen we need to change the way we provide shelter for people: and that’s exactly what Phoenix, Arizona did. Arizona is experience such extreme heat that everyday objects are melting and car tires explode, sometimes the airport can’t function either. This led the City of Phoenix to launch a competition for making the most affordable and environmentally friendly home.
The winning home building plan is available for free online from the city, meaning you can download a home.
The winner of the contest, Marlene Imirzian & Associates Architects, went even lower. The studio’s affordable, three-bedroom home, dubbed HOME nz, has an impressive HERS rating of zero. A $100,000 prize went to Imirzian’s firm, and the design is now available for widespread use; the City of Phoenix has made the construction plans for HOME nz available for free to encourage the public to build more eco-friendly homes. “The city of Phoenix has a very visionary sustainability director and department who are looking for leadership for built work in the Phoenix area,” says Imirzian. “[The] goal was to show how simple moves could result in significant [environmental] changes.”
Since Phoenix’s dry, sun-bleached environment involves extreme heat, the design incorporates high-performance glass, which reduces heat transmission from outside, and retractable fabric screens for greater shade and passive cooling without the help of an AC unit. But HOME nz is a useful and applicable model no matter the climate. “If the volume performs well in terms of the separation of the interior and exterior then no matter where you build your house, it will be managed optimally by what you’re surrounding the house with,” notes Imirzian. “It would do just as well in a very cold climate or [a place] where you need conditioning or heating.”
Like other art forms styles come and go in architecture; and when styles go in architecture it can result in demolition of buildings (and thus history). In Canada university and college campuses sprung up in the 60s to accommodate the influx of baby boomers so the style of these campuses reflect the style of the times. Trent University captured the Canadian architectural style the best and, unlike other schools, has embraced their buildings as a reason students should attend. Hopefully other institutions can find the value in their older buildings – even if they look “ugly” today.
Today, Trent is engaged in a careful renovation of its original Bata Library, while new projects – including a new student centre by Teeple Architects – are being guided by attention to the original campus.
In this way, a small institution is setting an example for the entire country: how to retain Canada’s modern heritage, which is both critical and in a moment of real danger.
No wonder. Thom and his talented colleagues blended careful attention to the site, beautiful materials and fine craftsmanship. The buildings, crafted by Thom’s team, including Paul Merrick, are full of complex spaces and details that echo and rhyme with one another. Walking through the original campus is a sensory feast of complexity and nuance; if you ever had the idea that modernist architecture had to be inhumane, this place will cure you of that notion. In the Great Hall at Champlain College, the buttresses and high ceiling make it seem “Hogwarts-like,” as one student told me; but the structure is a lattice of very modern concrete that weaves together skylights and wood slats.
Even the landscape, often overlooked in modern sites, has been well conceived. The pathways across campus are paved with an orange brick, which feels right under your feet.
Saving architecture through Twitter seems a little odd, yet the #SOSBrutalism movement has engendered an appreciation for an architectural style and saving buildings from demolition. Critics of brutalism describe the style as ugly and oppressive despite its rich history and beauty. As a result of the under-appreciation brutalist architecture many brutalist buildings are being demolished which is bad for the environment and bad for the history of architecture. Take a moment today and appreciate some brutalist architecture and tweet about it.
In 2015, the German Architecture Museum launched a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #SOSBrutalism to document Brutalist architecture, with a particular focus on endangered buildings: those facing possible demolition. It now has a database of more than 1,000 buildings worldwide, from carparks to hotels, union buildings to ministries, university libraries to hospitals, churches to shopping malls and from residential complexes to office blocks. Around 200 of them are in Britain.
It has united – and in some cases, triggered – campaigns to preserve these buildings. Elser says a number of heritage experts have contacted him to express their gratitude at the documentation provided in the catalogue. “It serves as proof that something is valuable,” he says.
Basically every nation has basic housing problems that need to be addressed. Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena won this year’s Pritzker Architecture Prize because of his work on community housing. It wasn’t just the buildings that got him the prize, it’s the fact that he and his team worked with locals to bring change to the community in a new way. Instead of centralized planning, they went with talking to the the people who lived in the community housing and brought positive change to the structures incrementally.
Thailand’s Baan Mankong Program also offers lessons in incremental housing through a decentralized, community-led process. Launched in 2003 by the Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI), the program directs small but flexible government subsidies and loans to community-level lending and savings groups, with a strong emphasis on an inclusive, collective process. Receiving input from all members of the community, these resident-led groups decide how they’d like to invest the money—from reconstructing or upgrading individual homes to reblocking or relocating entire neighborhoods. Additionally, the Baan Mankong Program provides technical and financial support from government staff, community architects and planners where needed, enabling residents to address complex tenure security needs, land redistribution, housing improvements, service delivery and more.