The global climate crisis is not only forcing us to rethink architectural design and the way we live, but also the materials and products that shape our built environment, starting from its origins and manufacture. Toward this end, wood has become an efficient alternative to steel and concrete – materials with high levels of embodied energy – and has led to some important architectural innovations that may culminate in its more widespread use worldwide.
As the world of construction becomes more automated, driven by economy, speed, and bureaucracy, architect and professor Marc Leschelier has created an exhibition at the Architektur Im Magazin Vienna, Austria, which inverts this trend. Titled “Cold Cream” the exhibition creates a secluded space, dissociated from the world, where the practice of construction is reduced to the struggle between soft and hard matters as well as spontaneous rises. The exhibition is therefore not an act of architecture, but rather approaching a form of pre-architecture.
Rammed earth has been used in construction for thousands of years, with evidence of its use dating as far back as the Neolithic Period. Commonly used especially in China, the technique was applied to both ancient monuments and vernacular architecture, with the Great Wall utilizing the technique. Though interest in rammed earth declined in the 20th century, some continue to advocate its use today, citing its sustainability in comparison to more modern construction methods. Most notably, rammed earth structures use local materials, meaning they have low embodied energy and produce little waste. Below, we describe how to build with this material.
With growing awareness of the impact of fossil fuels on the natural environment and their common usage in buildings, architects are increasingly required to specify and accommodate alternative energy sources in their design approaches. Included in this portfolio of progressive energy sources is biomass, a scalable system that combines the usage of raw, sustainable materials with a lower resulting emission of CO2. As a method often heralded as the most transferable alternative to gas and coal, we answer a simple question: what is biomass energy?
While technology and construction have progressed rapidly in recent years, allowing structures to be built taller and faster than ever, remnants of colossal ancient monuments remind us that construction techniques from as long as hundreds of years ago had enormous merit as well. In fact, many of the innovations of antiquity serve as foundations of modern construction, with the Roman invention of concrete serving as a cogent example. Other essential ancient construction techniques, such as the arch and the dome, are now often considered stylistic flourishes, with designs like the Met Opera House reinterpreting classical typologies in a modern context. Yet perhaps the most relevant reinterpretations of ancient construction today are those that do so in the interest of sustainability, renouncing high-energy modern construction methods in favor of older, more natural techniques.