The construction industry is known to be one of the most polluting industries on the planet, but we often find it difficult to associate the role of the architect and urban planner with this industry, thus avoiding the responsibility of being involved in one of the most harmful production chains in the world. Therefore, it is imperative to emphasize the importance of questioning not only the materials used in the projects but also the manufacturing systems involved.
"If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, with about 2.8 billion tons, surpassed only by China and the United States." This statement in Lucy Rodgers' BBC report on the ecological footprint of concrete stands out as quite shocking. With more than 4 billion tonnes produced each year, cement accounts for around 8 percent of global CO2 emissions and is a key element in the production of concrete, the most manufactured product in the world. To give you an idea, about half a ton of concrete is produced per person in the world every year, enough to build 11,000 Empire State buildings. With these huge numbers, is there any way to reduce this impact?
Façade is one of the most important factors in certain building types, that can completely transform the occupant experience and the energy performance of the building. The Whole Building Design Guide showcases that the facade can have up to 40% impact on the total energy use of the building. In addition to the energy use, the facades also significantly impact the occupant productivity withing a building and, of course, the appearance of the building. There are many factors that go into creating a high-performance façade. In this article, we outline the top 5 things a design team should consider.
It is a common misconception that bunk beds - which are sleeping spaces elevated above floor-level - are used exclusively for the bedrooms of children and teens. While bunk beds are a great solution for younger kids and older kids alike, the practical aspect of bunk beds which gives ample sleeping space while saving on floor space, makes them great for a variety of purposes and applications. With a rise in density and the majority of people living in large urban centers making use of increasingly smaller living spaces, there has come a push towards modularity in interior architecture. For this reason, bunk beds and lofted sleeping areas have become a great solution to maximize square footage.
Researchers credit the Hanging Gardens of Babylon as the first examples of green roofs. Although there is no proof of its exact location and very little literature on the structure, the most accepted theory is that King Nebuchadnezzar II built a series of elevated, ascending terraces with varied species as a gift to his wife, who missed the forests and mountains of Persia, their local land. According to Wolf Schneider  the gardens were supported by brick vaults, and under them, there were shaded halls cooled by artificial irrigation of the gardens, with a much milder temperature than the outside, in the plains of Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). Since then, examples of green roofs have appeared all over the world, from Rome to Scandinavia, in the most diverse climates and types.
The choice of Lacaton & Vassal to receive the 2021 Pritzker Prize was, above all, emblematic. Under the mantra “never demolish, never remove or replace, always add, transform and reuse”, the French duo built a career focused on renovating buildings, providing them with spatial quality, efficiency and new programs. Their approach contrasts with most of the architecture we are used to honoring: iconic, imposing and grandiose works. It also contrasts with the notion of the tabula rasa, of building and rebuilding from scratch, so well represented in Le Corbusier's Ville Radieuse, and which has fascinated architects and urban planners ever since.
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.
The art of building a shelter made from blocks of ice is passed on from father to son among the Inuit, native peoples who inhabit the northernmost regions of the planet. The circular plan, the entrance tunnel, the air outlet and the ice blocks form a structure where the heat generated inside melts a superficial layer of snow and seals the gaps, improving the thermal insulation of ice. In a storm, an igloo can be the difference between life and death and perhaps this is the most iconic and radical example of what it means to build with local materials, few tools and lots of knowledge. In this case, ice is all you have.
Wood is an extremely versatile material. It allows for the construction of robust and strong structures, while it can also be used as the raw material for delicate objects such as musical instruments. Understanding all its particularities, properties, and behavior is a journey of knowledge that could take a lifetime. Basically, wood is made up of cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, and mineral elements, and each species has its own unique characteristics. The history of Stradivarius violins, for example, is interesting to mention: they are still worth fortunes and experts argue that luthiers have never been able to replicate their timbre on newer instruments. Researchers point out that the differentiated sound is due to the wood in the body and arm, which went through a submersion process with a mineral solution that increased the decomposition of hemicellulose. The treatment made the wood absorb less moisture, making the sound brighter and more pleasant.
Flooding is a significant problem for buildings all around the world, including architectural treasures like the Farnsworth House that have been plagued by the issue time and time again. In particular, one-third of the entire continental U.S. are at risk of flooding this spring, especially the Northern Plains, Upper Midwest, and Deep South. In April of 2019, deadly floods decimated parts of Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Iran as well, resulting in a low estimate of 1,000 deaths while tens of thousands more were displaced. While architecture cannot solve or even fully protect from the most deadly floods, it is possible – and necessary – to take several protective measures that could mitigate damage and consequently save lives.
The climate has changed, and we have been left grappling with the consequences: high temperatures, flooding, drought and much more. As the world shifts (or tries to shift) to ways to mitigate the crisis, the architecture and construction industry finds itself in a particularly important position whose choices can create real impact. Some of these choices can include innovative products that offer real solutions to complex problems, such as the cooling down of temperatures in highly dense cities.
The automation of architectural design and rendering has been further accelerated by digital production tools. Tools such as 3D printers, assembly robots, and laser cutters, have all but perfected the design and construction process and have proven essential in optimizing resources, improving precision, and increasing control of the process.
Many practitioners and theorists of modern architecture favored large open plans, looming glass windows, and through both of these means, an unencumbered connection to nature. To do so, many iconic modernist buildings would use cantilevered roofs extending over glass curtainwalls, including Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House #22. In the years since this trend was popularized, however, a seemingly niche yet cumbersome problem would present itself: the problem of continuous wood ceilings.