The window for solving climate change is narrowing; any solution must include embodied carbon. The Sixth Assessment Report published by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) concludes that the world can emit just 500 gigatonnes more of carbon dioxide, starting in January 2020, if we want a 50 percent chance of staying below 1.5 degrees. In 2021 alone, the world emitted about 36.3 gigatonnes of carbon, the highest amount ever recorded. We’re on track to blow through our carbon budget in the next several years. To quote the IPCC directly: “The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years (high confidence).”
Carbon Footprint: The Latest Architecture and News
Foster + Partners’ project for BENCH, one of the Philippines’ leading clothing and lifestyle brands, has started construction in Manila. The 24-storey headquarters building offers offices, design studios, event spaces, and the necessary amenities to create an enjoyable environment for the company’s employees. Located on the east-west axis in the Bonifacio Global City, the building opens up the ground floor to create a visual connection to the green space surrounding it.
Wood is the concrete of the future. As timber construction becomes increasingly popular, you have probably heard this phrase. However, we are not talking about traditional construction techniques using timber, but rather about this well-known material combined with cutting-edge technology.
OMA / David Gianotten and Circlewood Develop a Modular Wood System to Create Flexible Schools for the City of Amsterdam
As part of the Circlewood consortium, OMA’s David Gianotten and Michel den Otter have developed a modular system to build schools that can adapt and transform throughout their lifecycle. The system was selected by the City of Amsterdam to be employed to build multiple schools in the coming ten years, as part of the Innovation Partnership School Buildings program. The citywide initiative aims to build nine to thirty “high-quality, flexible, and sustainable” schools as a way to contribute to the city’s goal of becoming fully circular by 2050.
Refurbishment and adaptive reuse have been at the forefront of architectural discourse in recent years. This demonstrates that the profession is becoming increasingly aware of its impact on the environment and the opportunities presented by reusing what has already been built. Architecture 2030 has recently launched CARE, or Carbon Avoided Retrofit Estimator, a new digital tool that enables designers, owners, and communities to quantify the carbon benefits of adaptive reuse. By entering a streamlined set of project information, such as energy targets and potential building interventions, users can quickly estimate both operational carbon emissions generated by the use of the building and embodied carbon emissions, which are tied to the building materials employed.
To initiate change of any kind, one must first be aware of the problem at hand. In the construction industry –which is responsible for 39% of global greenhouse gas emissions and countless other environmental impacts– mastering and understanding the numbers related to its processes is extremely important. But assessing the impact of a product or a material is much more complex than one might think. It includes the exhaustive collection of data about its inputs (for example, the raw materials, energy, and water used) and outputs (such as emissions and waste) associated with each stage of the life cycle. This allows for the quantification of the embodied carbon and other environmental impacts, the identification of where performance can be improved, and provides real numbers for a comprehensive and unified comparison between materials and products.
The Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment (wbLCA) method studies the totality of products present in a building, providing valuable information for decision-making related to the design, construction, operation, maintenance, and eventual demolition or reuse of a building. In other words, it refers to the totality of the LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) for all of the building's components. Recently, the National Research Council of Canada, in collaboration with the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute, released the national guidelines for wbLCA, which reflect what is practiced in North America. The aim is to harmonize the practice and to aid interpretation and compliance with relevant standards, with the guidelines being updated periodically as it evolves, enabling the calculation of reliable baselines or benchmarks, supporting LCA-based compliance schemes and assisting in the development and use of wbLCA software.
The Athens International Airport was decommissioned in 2001, leading to two decades of work for the local government to establish funding and a governance mechanism to transform the 600 acres of unused space into Europe’s largest coastal park. The site has a layered history, from prehistoric settlements to the construction of the airport in the 20th century and the site being used for as an Olympic venue in 2004. Architecture office Sasaki is leading the design to transform the site again and create the Ellinikon Metropolitan Park, a restorative landscape and climate-positive design that will serve as a park, playground, and cultural center for the city of Athens. Developers are planning to break ground early next year.
Lina Ghotmeh Selected as Designer of the 2023 Serpentine Pavilion, with a Proposal Aiming for the Smallest Possible Carbon Footprint
Beirut-born, Paris-based architect Lina Ghotmeh has been announced as the designer of the 22nd annual Serpentine Gallery Pavilion. Titled “À Table,” the French expression for sitting together to eat, her proposal introduces a slender wooden structure with nine pleated petals supported by radial ribs. Inside the pavilion, a ring of tables and benches invites visitors to enter, sit down and relax, eat or work together. According to the architect, the modest space and low-slung canopy is meant to make people feel close to the earth. The Serpentine Pavilion will be open from June to October 2023.
EHDD has recently launched the Early-Phase Integrated Carbon (EPIC) Assessment tool, a free new web-based application developed to designers set goals and strategies to reduce carbon emissions from building and construction projects. The tool aims to fill a gap in the life-cycle assessment process and allow designers to identify the most impactful measures early in the project process. At the same time, other resources like Tally and EC3 are seen as crucial later in the design.
To celebrate Earth Day, real estate developers Urban Villages and Studio Gang have unveiled and broken ground on "Populus", the first carbon positive hotel in the United States. Set to open in late 2023, the 265-room hotel in Denver features a rooftop restaurant and bar, designed as a significant milestone for the future of sustainable travel that meets the needs of travelers, the community, and the environment.
The Zero Carbon policy is intended to create a kind of ecological balance to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions. Several studies report that the construction sector is one of the main responsible for the unbalance in which we find ourselves today, after all, it consumes natural resources on a gigantic scale and still builds buildings that do not collaborate with the maintenance of the environment. Therefore, searching for paths towards a carbon neutral architecture has become fundamental and one of them is learning from past masters, such as the Brazilian architect João Filgueiras Lima, known as Lelé.
Carbon footprints and CO2 emissions are large topics in our conversations about how we create a more sustainable future. Over time, different companies, organizations, and individuals have pledged to alter their lifestyles and habits to make changes that show that they are dedicated to combating climate change. Especially in the design industry, where buildings generate nearly 40% of annual CO2 emissions broken down between daily operations and construction/demolition, architects have long been feeling the pressure of exploring ways to prove that we are doing our part.
When we take a look at the different scales of emissions, one question commonly occurs- how can we measure the different levels of impact? Is it on us individually to recycle and ensure we never use plastic straws again? Does this even have a major impact? Do more car manufacturers need to find alternates for gasoline-fueled automobiles? Do architects need to only source sustainable materials? What are the actionable steps that truly have an impact?
A carbon neutral building is achieved when the amount of CO2 emissions is balanced by climate-positive initiatives so that the net carbon footprint over time is zero. Considering their unmatched ability to absorb CO2, planting trees is often viewed as the best carbon offsetting solution. But as cities become denser and the amount of available horizontal space for green areas drastically reduces, architects have been forced to explore other approaches. Therefore, to address these climatic challenges and connect people to nature, exterior green walls have become a rising trend in increasingly vertical cities. Even if there is research to claim that these can positively impact the environment, many question if they can actually contribute to a carbon neutral architecture. Although the answer may be quite complex, there seems to be a consensus: green walls can be effective, but only through good design.
Concrete and sustainability are two words that are often considered incompatible. Used as early as the Roman era, concrete has shaped much of our built environment, being the most widely used manufactured material in the planet thanks to its resistance, versatility, cost-effectiveness, and accessibility, among other inherent benefits. Its popular use in buildings and infrastructure forms the foundations of cities, connects communities, and will continue to play a vital role in providing solutions to the challenges of the future – especially as cities must respond to a growing global population. But with cement as its key ingredient, it also comes with several environmental costs, being responsible for at least 8% of the world’s carbon emissions in a climate-change context. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. With the rise of innovative technologies and products, there are many ways to make concrete greener.