How does architecture contribute to the current climate crisis?
We invited our readers to weigh in on this issue and were overwhelmed by the number of responses that we got. After reading through and compiling the replies from industry professionals, architectural students, and architecture aficionados, we were struck by a common theme: there are few resources when it comes to researching how materials and products used in construction are sourced and produced.
In a recent interview with Argentine architectural firm BAAG, a key proponent for research and exploration in construction materials, we were told: "we're not only interested in the use of materials, we're also focused on how they're produced, sourced, exploited, and commercialized and, more importantly, the ecological footprint that these processes create. To get an accurate picture, we also focus on products' durability and how well they age and they role they play in design and construction."
Most of the time it seems that information about materials and products is economically motivated with little academic, professional, or political input.
Point of View 1:
Step Away from the Desk and Into the Field
"Architectural education teaches us to design with heavy-emission materials with little focus on efficiency and durability," writes one of our readers, a sentiment echoed by many others who find themselves struggling to find the balance between art and practicality within the architectural classroom.
Many readers pointed out the "overall lack of awareness when it comes to the production process behind construction materials" and that it's necessary to delve deeper into "the individual actions that can be taken, such as emphasizing the use of local materials that don't need to be transported long distances and the revitalization and reuse of already existing buildings."
Point of View 2:
Choosing Materials: Style, Function, or Efficiency?
In talking about their work, many architects told us that "their primary focus was on making their clients happy with little to no thought for the impact that a project could have on the environment."
As architects, we tend to focus solely on the needs of the client and, unfortunately, this often means that ethics and consideration for the impact that our work has on others gets tossed aside for fear of losing said client or project.
In trying to appease clients, "we are complicit in the sourcing and commercialization of materials, often forsaking our own values just so that our colleagues get a spread in a magazine." In this sense, "architects are often feel obligated to work with any new industrial materials that show up in the market," and dedicate their careers to "getting what they can from real estate firms by focusing more on synthetic materials, ultimately adding to the problem."
Architecture, when well planned, should never conflict with the environment.
Unfortunately, in many cases, this means that "many corners are cut in the building process, for example using cheaper insulation even when it means sacrificing comfort, efficiency, durability."
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"The main problems lies with the forgoing of local materials (a common practice) in favor of materials that must be shipped in from another part of the world; all as a way to cut costs. This of course leads to the unnecessary consumption of materials and in turn "globalizes" styles, leading to the toppling of local styles and culture."
Point of View 3:
Building More Means Extracting More
If we want to build bigger cities, somebody has to make the materials to make it happen--and decide which materials should and shouldn't be used.
"Humans ultimately steer the wheel when it comes to climate change, and especially the people in power who determine civilization's direction through their activities, such as plastics production, oil extraction, etc. with no thought for the damage being done. Architecture is very much a part of this cycle, as it gives form to many of these industrial projects." In this sense, the "wide-scale construction of houses and buildings, with little to no input from local authorities, is accruing an environmental cost that is becoming impossible to calculate."
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"What restrictions that do exist on projects are often entirely property-based, and are completely silent when it comes to environmental impacts. Construction measures and norms should be stricter in regards to this issue since it doesn't take make effort to completely destroy an ecosystem."
Nobody thinks about the waste that construction produces nor about the methods of getting construction materials to market, be they legal, sustainable, or over-exploited.
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