Artificial Intelligence as an Ally in Architectural Decarbonization: From Conception to Building Implementation

For a long time, sustainability in the architectural field was synonymous with technology. Efficiency was directly linked to innovative technological devices that adorned buildings with gadgets. Nowadays, however, sustainability increasingly encompasses different strategies that also involve acknowledging vernacular techniques and local materials as crucial for creating sustainable and carbon-neutral buildings.

Nevertheless, regardless of the technique or materials employed, the common denominator is the pursuit of reducing the carbon footprint of our architecture, which demands changes in how buildings are conceived, constructed, and operated. In other words, whether returning to vernacular methods or utilizing cutting-edge applications, these strategies aim to reach the same destination and, therefore, are equally valid despite being vastly different.

Artificial Intelligence (AI), in particular, has been revolutionizing our way of living for several decades, starting discreetly with automated controls for lighting, security, and other appliances and progressing to precise calculations of a building's energy efficiency. Furthermore, AI goes beyond these applications, being implemented to gain a deeper understanding of the energy efficiency of a structure and the dynamics of how society interacts with it, as well as how the structure interacts with the environment.

The application of AI for decarbonizing architecture begins as early as the conceptual design stage, providing valuable data for better space optimization and generation of thermal comfort. In practice, artificial intelligence can collaborate with passive design techniques to optimize the building's orientation, window sizes, and shading, maximizing natural light and ventilation. Therefore, AI-based passive design can assist in creating buildings that are naturally energy-efficient, reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions. Additionally, AI algorithms can analyze and suggest optimal material choices based on sustainability criteria, considering factors such as carbon footprint, recyclability, durability, and energy efficiency.

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Data-driven architecture: exploring 4 tools. Sefaira Software. Image Courtesy of Sefaira

Studies indicate that the construction industry is accountable for approximately one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. In response, various strategies, including the evolving role of artificial intelligence (AI), are being implemented to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings. AI is not only influencing the conceptual design phase but is also making significant strides in the construction stage. Emerging software applications are being tested to cut emissions from cement and steel production by optimizing fuel combustion and reducing clinker proportions. Additionally, AI contributes to optimizing concrete mixtures for lower carbon footprints and expediting the discovery of new materials.

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ETH Zurich/ Concrete Choreography. Image © Axel Crettenand

However, beyond AI's contributions to decarbonizing architecture in the design and construction processes, a significant advancement is evident in the buildings’ adaptation and daily operations.

Energy efficiency is a crucial point when it comes to decarbonization in architecture. According to the International Energy Agency, maintaining buildings in operation contributed to approximately 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions related to energy in 2022. In this context, the appeal made by companies dealing with artificial intelligence is clear: "If you cannot measure what matters, you cannot make the change." Hence, the proposition is to utilize AI for mapping historical patterns and daily habits of occupants, allowing for the activation or deactivation of devices. This approach breathes "life" into the building, making architecture responsive and adaptive to its surroundings.

With an integrated system of sensors, it is possible to control heating and cooling precisely in environments. It is also possible to adjust lighting and other energy-related activities, helping to achieve a reduction of 20% or more in annual energy consumption. The results are indeed promising; however, it is crucial to emphasize that AI fundamentally operates based on data, and if this data is not collected correctly—with poorly positioned or insufficient sensors—all the technological apparatus becomes futile.

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IHI Innovation Center [i-Base] / Nikken Sekkei. © Nacasa & Partners

Beyond these examples, AI's application in architecture extends to several aspects. Regardless of the manner or stage in which it is applied, it is crucial to consider that it is not a form of magic but rather software created by humans to assist in decisions that can contribute to the decarbonization of architecture. We will not save the planet with artificial intelligence software alone; however, it can be a fundamental tool to complete the puzzle.

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Cite: Ghisleni, Camilla. "Artificial Intelligence as an Ally in Architectural Decarbonization: From Conception to Building Implementation" [Inteligência artificial como aliada na descarbonização da arquitetura: da concepção à apropriação dos edifícios] 11 Jan 2024. ArchDaily. (Trans. Simões, Diogo) Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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