Current popular building practices lack a nuanced approach to sustainability due to years of it being culturally ok to put future generations into ecological debt. Thankfully, things are starting to change and architects want to build a sustainable future, and fast. Prior to mass industrialization buildings were constructed using locally sourced materials, making them more sustainable with a relatively small carbon footprint. As globalization increased the techniques of using local materials were forgotten and now architects are calling for everybody in their field to share best practices around locally sourced material and techniques.
Architects are at the forefront of our drive to lessen the impact humans have on the environment. While the agenda has stayed relatively constant since I was at school, the sustainability goalposts have moved – and narrowed. A building designed as zero-carbon just half a decade ago would now be considered ‘operationally’ zero-carbon at best, whereas ‘whole-life carbon’ calculations now consider the building’s demolition and waste disposal. Our thinking, designs and architectural goals must evolve, but things are evolving at such a speed; how on earth are architects to keep up?
‘Renewable and sustainable technologies change very quickly, as does our understanding of sustainable outcomes, so it is important to try to keep on top of it,’ says Tate Harmer partner Jerry Tate. ‘We need to communicate to each other in our industry, sharing best practice and our experiences to help get to the right answers.’
Our current selection of building materials tend to be carbon intensive and can have long lasting unhealthy impacts on humans. This issue (and others) have led some to look into alternative forms of building which are healthier and sturdier than what we currently use. There have been attempts at this in the past and with each iteration of research we get better at figuring out alternative building materials. One of the most interesting is to use mushrooms to build the entire structure, and to let it keep growing.
Joe Dahmen, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia School of Architecture, said people first became interested in mycelium for construction about 15 years ago as a substitute for foam insulation, which isn’t biodegradable and can pose a potential health hazard.
“There’s a real tie-in here with healthy buildings,” he said, noting that he became interested in mycelium as a replacement for formaldehyde-based glues.
When you think about geothermal power you may think of giant installations benefiting from the heat the earth produces; however much smaller geothermal setups exist. These smaller systems are often called geoexchanges since they cycle heat from the ground to the building above or vice versa. Small residential systems can take a long time to recoup the costs of installation and demand for these small systems keeps increasing. Larger installations for condo buildings can see positive returns very quickly due to the sheer quantity of energy those buildings need. The good news here is that more and more condos are looking to this more sustainable source of heating and cooling.
Lloyd Jacobs, general manager of FortisBC Alternative Energy Services, which has installed geothermal systems in dozens of multi-residential buildings in B.C., said there is “a huge demand” for alternative heating systems in large buildings that might have been heated by fossil fuels or baseboard heaters in the past.
Traditionally, a challenge for geothermal energy is the high cost of digging and installing the borefield — that is, the liquid-filled underground loops that store and supply the heating and cooling to the system.
But Martin Luymes, vice-president of government relations for the Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada, said those upfront expenses are now offset by savings from things like lower energy and maintenance costs in as little as three to five years for large buildings.
Buildings suck up a lot of energy and thus are massive contributors to our collective carbon footprint. After they are built ongoing operational costs are incurred, and the costs are greater on buildings which are inefficiently deigned and built. This has led a team in the states to call for a new approach towards how construction functions in the nation. A green approach to build green is the dream.
Of course, the best thing we can do is work to reduce our demand on new buildings and re-purpose existing infrastructure to be more efficient.
With public demand growing for scalable climate solutions from all levels of government, policymakers can work together to transition the United States from a patchwork of requirements to a set of dynamic, performance-based policies that enable rapid decarbonization throughout a building’s lifecycle. Zero-carbon building codes for new construction address the emissions from buildings constructed each year, while emerging building performance standards and policies can address existing buildings.
Inequality has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we ought to be conscious about this. Wealthy individuals can work from home and afford to move, while others need to be physically at work and can’t move. As a result the prices of houses outside of cities have risen has more people look for more space to accommodate working from home.
We also know that the suburbs are drivers of regressive political attitudes and horrible environmental damage. We ought to be conscious about this too. Since people want to keep working from home and move further from sustainable infrastructure, what should we do? Over at Fast Company they explore this 2020 conundrum.
As we face aclimate turning pointfor which our post-COVID-19 behaviors are especially crucial, it’s important that higher-income individuals who move outward live in an eco-friendly way, especially when manyessential and lower-wage workersmust stay in cities and, often, climate hotspots. “COVID-19 has illustrated a sad truism: We may all be in the same boat, but we all do not have the same paddles,” Daniel Kammen, the other Berkeley study author, wrote in an email toFast Company. Affluent individuals in New York and San Francisco have the financial means to insulate themselves from climate risks, such as wildfires and unsafe air, by working from home and relocating, he explained. “Multiple properties, often larger suburban and rural homes, and longer delivery chains all mean that individual emissions of the affluent rise when they take the extra precautions they can afford.”