In today's climate, energy and how we use it is a primary concern in the design of built spaces. Buildings currently contribute nearly 40% to global carbon emissions and with a projected growth of 230 billion square meters in construction before the end of 2060, the focus on construction decarbonization efforts should be paramount.
Energy Efficiency: The Latest Architecture and News
The United States Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm announced the winners of the 2021 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Decathlon, a competition that challenges architecture and engineering college students from around the world to design and construct high-performance buildings powered by renewable energy. 72 competing teams hailed from 12 countries and designed energy-efficient residential and commercial spaces, nine of which were constructed and presented in the Solar Decathlon Virtual Village on the National Mall, a first of its kind, in Washington, D.C.
There was a time when people appreciated self-contained architecture, in which the building envelope would not function as a moderator between the climate outside and the interior environment but rather as an inert and independent barrier. Countless mechanical devices and electrical ventilation, heating, and cooling equipment. A real machine.
Today, architects are increasingly concerned with the interaction between architecture and the environment in which it is inserted, thus assuming responsibility for the thermal comfort of interior spaces, using design strategies for natural climate control.
Hessenwald School in Weiterstadt, Germany, is an example of energy-efficient, contemporary architecture that offers a new teaching and pedagogical model. At the centre of both model and building stands a well-lit and well-ventilated three-storey atrium.
In a predominately urban world that constantly has to deal with complex problems such as waste generation, water scarcity, natural disasters, air pollution, and even the spread of disease, it is impossible to ignore the impact of human activity on the environment. Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and it is urgent that we find ways to slow down the process, at the very least. Toward this end, our production, consumption, and construction habits will have to change, or climate change and environmental degradation will continue to diminish the quality and duration of our lives and that of future generations.
Although they seem intangible and distant, these various energy inefficiencies and waste issues are much closer than we can imagine, present in the buildings we use on a daily basis. As architects, this problem is further amplified as we deal daily with design decisions and material specifications. In other words, our decisions really do have a global impact. How can we use design to create a healthier future for our world?
In 2018, the UN released an article stating that 55% of the world’s population already lived in urban areas, predicting that by 2050 this percentage would reach 68%. This trend toward greater urbanization carries with it several implications regarding environmental degradation and social inequality. According to National Geographic, urban growth increases air pollution, endangers animal populations, promotes the loss of urban tree cover, and heightens the likelihood of environmental catastrophes such as flash flooding. These health hazards and catastrophic phenomena may be more likely to impact poorer populations, as larger cities tend to demonstrate higher rates of economic inequality and uncontrolled growth tends to produce unequal distributions of space, services, and opportunities.
To mitigate these negative effects of urbanization, designers are increasingly prioritizing sustainability and the maximization of available space – allowing more people to occupy less space with a smaller footprint.
Solar tiles operate identically to the photovoltaic panels that are already widely used in construction. The primary difference between them lies in their assembly: whereas photovoltaic panels are attached to an existing roof, solar tiles are part of the roof's construction from the start, taking the place of regular tiling.
The tiles are formed by photovoltaic cells that, when they receive sunlight, create an electric field capable of providing electrical energy for use inside the building. Each tile is connected by cables to the power distribution board.
Thermal comfort becomes very evident when it is not attended to. When thermal conditions are adequate in one location, our body is in balance with the environment allowing us to perform activities normally. On the other hand, when a space is too hot or too cold, we soon see changes in our mood and body. Dissatisfaction with the thermal environment occurs when the heat balance is unstable, that is when there are differences between the heat produced by the body and the heat that the body loses to the environment.
Home automation, or Domotics, is a set of technologies applied to a residence to control lighting, climate, entertainment systems, and appliances. Its systems allow for efficient management of energy consumption, security, accessibility, and the general comfort of the building, becoming an important issue to consider when designing, building, and living.
Domotic systems are based on the collection of data by sensors, which are then processed to issue precise orders to the executors, varying the environmental quality of each enclosure according to the needs of the user. The pace of current life and the technological advances we have experienced in recent years have led to new ways of living, motivating the design of homes and more human, multifunctional and flexible buildings. What was once a luxury is now a feasible and effective solution for all types of projects.
In this article, we've compiled a collection of smart homes where domotics have been used.
During warm summer months, buildings must maintain an adequate and comfortable temperature for the users of the space. Blinds or solar screens are an effective solution in projects that have large glazed surfaces, thus reducing the temperatures generated by direct sunlight.
Below, we have selected 6 Spanish projects that creatively use louvers and shutters in their facades.
French firm Coldefy & Associates has unveiled images of their design proposal for the world’s largest tropical greenhouse under one roof. Situated in Pas-de-Calais, France, “Tropicalia” will cover an area of 215,000 square feet (20,000 square meters) featuring a tropical forest, turtle beach, a pool for Amazonian fish, and a one-kilometer-long walking trail. The biome aims to offer a “harmonious haven” where visitors are immediately immersed in a seemingly natural environment under a single domed roof.
OVO Grąbczewscy Architekci's stacked garden-like proposal has been awarded third place in a competition for the new Małopolska Science Center in Krakow, Poland. The competition brief asked for the design of an innovative cultural institution with an iconic architectural form that would represent creativity, openness and independent thinking. As a reflection of both the city and the region, the center is also intended to provide a model for sustainable construction, energy efficiency, and education that inspires immersive visitor engagement.
See the complete design below.
Whether architects are trying to meet the Architecture 2030 Challenge or pursuing their own mission to save energy, they have an opportunity to design buildings that can limit carbon emissions and be resilient against changing climate conditions.
To help architects meet their goals, a new wave of chemistry and material science is bringing innovative materials and building systems to the marketplace. From advanced insulation foams to multiwall cladding, this next generation of high-performing materials will help accelerate energy-efficient design.
Learn more about some of the high performing materials of today and tomorrow.
The fact-finding mission to Germany for US Architects is part of the "Energy Efficiency - Made in Germany" initiative of the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy and is organized by energiewaechter GmbH and the German American Chamber of Commerce, Inc. in New York. Joining the fact-finding mission to Frankfurt and Darmstadt will give US Architects the opportunity to learn about innovative German technologies and services in the field of energy efficient buildings and passive house.
The 12 principles published here are explained in detail in the book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, by David Holmgren.
In 1978, Australian ecologists David Holmgren and Bill Mollison coined for the first time the concept of permaculture as a systematic method. For Mollison, "permaculture is the philosophy of working with and not against nature, after a long and thoughtful observation."  Meanwhile, Holmgren defines the term as "those consciously designed landscapes which simulate or mimic the patterns and relationships observed in natural ecosystems." 
In 2002, Holmgren published the book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, defining 12 design principles that can be used as a guide when generating sustainable systems. These principles can be applied to all daily processes in order to humanize those processes, increase efficiency, and in the long term ensure the survival of mankind.
What if we apply them to the design process of an architectural project?
With the goal of harnessing and exploring the benefits of clay as a raw material, which is characteristic of Colombia's Cúcuta region, Architects Miguel Niño and Johanna Navarro created Sumart Diseño y Arquitectura SAS, a studio that designs and develops sustainable architectural solutions.
One of their most successful projects is the Bloque Termodisipador BT, a ceramic block designed with an irregular cross section that allows ventilation to pass through the brick, reducing the amount of heat that enters the interior of the building.
Enthusiasm for water and energy data collection for commercial and residential buildings has been growing strong across the U.S. in major cities such as Austin, New York, Washington D.C. and San Francisco. It's no surprise to learn that Earth-friendly Seattle is ahead of the game when it comes to tracking its buildings; reports show that the city is receiving data for a whopping 87% of its commercial and multi-residential buildings over 50,000 square feet, which totals to 1,160 individual properties covering over 200 million square feet of the city.