Building buildings takes a lot of energy and once done the built structure continues to consume energy and have a carbon footprint. Many options exist to reduce the carbon impact of buildings from the point of construction all the way to deconstruction, but the industry still needs to adopt these measures. Things are getting better though as more people in the industry understand how to think about the carbon footprint of the construction industry.
Take Whole Life Carbon Perspective
By plotting the impact of a building over time, we observed the tensions between upfront impact strategies and long-term solutions. Our class first employed a “whole life carbon” approach to assess emissions associated with the construction and performance of a range of façade systems, discovering that the bulk of an enclosure system’s upfrontemissions stem from window systems reliant on carbon-intensive framing materials, such as aluminum or polyvinyl chloride. Last fall, we scaled our investigations up to the whole building, finding that the actual operational data uniformly eclipsed modeled emissions, and that the balance between embodied and operational emissions varied significantly across the campus’s buildings.
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 â€“ and narrowed. A building designed as zero-carbon just half a decade ago would now be considered â€˜operationallyâ€™ zero-carbon at best, whereas â€˜whole-life carbonâ€™ calculations now consider the buildingâ€™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?
â€˜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,â€™ says Tate Harmer partner Jerry Tate. â€˜We need to communicate to each other in our industry, sharing best practice and our experiences to help get to the right answers.â€™
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.
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 buildingâ€™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.
Skyscrapers have been made out of concrete, glass, and steel since the first skyscraper was built. Before these building materials were used it was impossible to build that high – wood wouldn’t cut it. Wood wasn’t strong enough so steel had to be used for the core support structure.
Thanks to new techniques, that we’ve looked at before, skyscrapers can be built using wood. Wooden towers create less of a carbon footprint because cement and steel require a lot of energy to become useful whereas wood just grows on trees. In Amsterdam a 240-foot residential tower has been proposed and this is just one of many wooden tower projects being built around the world.
What developers hope will be theÂ worldâ€™s tallest timber towerÂ is currently under construction in Vancouver, and a growingÂ tall timber building trendÂ popular in Europe continues to gain momentum, with recent proposals for timber skyscrapers from cities such as London, Stockholm, and Bordeaux (Franceâ€™s fifth-largest city). Now Amsterdamâ€”whose skyline is not defined by high-rise buildingsâ€”has thrown its hat in the ring withÂ Haut, a 240-foot-tall timber residential tower designed by Dutch firmÂ Team V Architecture. Set to begin construction in the second half of 2017, Haut will be theÂ tallest timber tower in the NetherlandsÂ and possibly the world (depending on how quickly construction schedules go).