Architects of today face a common task that defies intuition – how to balance building performance and strict carbon targets against cost. Sustainability in design is certainly a worthy and necessary goal, but the amount of options can be overwhelming and the costs prohibitive, especially in the eyes of owners. How can designers best convince their clients to integrate sustainability into a project? Keeping costs low and backing up decisions with fact-based analysis are solid first steps.
Carbon: The Latest Architecture and News
All human activities affect the environment. Some are less impactful, some much, much more. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the construction sector is responsible for up to 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Activities such as mining, processing, transportation, industrial operations, and the combination of chemical products result in the release of gases such as CO2, CH4, N2O, O3, halocarbons, and water vapor. When these gases are released into the atmosphere, they absorb a portion of the sun's rays and redistribute them in the form of radiation in the atmosphere, warming our planet. With a rampant amount of gas released daily, this layer thickens, which causes solar radiation to enter and and stay in the planet. Today, this 'layer' has become so thick that mankind is beginning to experience severe consequence, such as desertification, ice melting, water scarcity, and the intensification of storms, hurricanes, and floods, which has modified ecosystems and reduced biodiversity.
As architects, one of our biggest concerns should be the reduction of carbon emissions from the buildings we construct. Being able to measure, quantify, and rate this quality is a good way to start.
Practitioners have finally begun taking a more nuanced approach to the carbon emitted by new buildings. Are they too late?
I’ve started calling them come-to-carbon moments—the inner alarm bells that sound as you begin to register the devastating ecological costs of every man-made surface around you. Every sidewalk you’ve ever walked on, every building you’ve ever walked into, and every material inside those buildings, too. It’s the kind of thing you can’t un-see once you’ve started looking, the kind of knowledge that can transform a worldview, or a practice.
Log 47 reconceives architecture’s role in climate change away from sustainability and solutionism and toward its formal complicity and potential agency in addressing the crisis. In this excerpt from her introductory essay, guest editor Elisa Iturbe defines carbon form as a necessary new way of understanding architecture and urbanism in order to develop a new disciplinary paradigm.
Until now, most environmental discourse in architecture has focused on carbon as a by-product of building and construction, making it seem that at the ecological brink, the most pressing concern is energy efficiency. This stance compartmentalizes the discipline and dislocates the origin of the climate crisis from the dominant political, economic, and spatial organizations that are its cause. In response to this dislocation, Log: 47 Overcoming Carbon Form reconsiders the link between architecture and climate by exploring the reciprocity between energy and built form. To do so, energy must be understood beyond its technical capacity, viewed instead as a political and cultural force with inevitable spatial repercussions.
The 2°C Symposium is an opportunity to learn essential technologies, strategies and tools that address climate change at a critical time for our collective future.
“Green” measures nothing. Which is greener: a building that saves water or a building that uses certified carpet? There is no obvious answer to this question - this is why trying to quantify “green” is biased and leads nowhere. Using carbon as a metric, on the other hand, makes sense. This is something you can accurately measure and therefore reduce. Going “low-carbon” not only contributes to fighting climate change but also totally redefines construction (choice of materials, energy sources, etc.).
This is why shapedearth.com, the first free online calculator for assessing the whole life embodied carbon of building projects, is such a useful tool.