Why should architects embrace decarbonization to build a sustainable future?

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© Photo by Kiyoshi Hijiki / Getty Images

The field of architecture has long been synonymous with innovative design ideas and incredible forms that have pushed the limits of human creativity. But with the recent advent of climatic challenges, this discipline has found itself grappling with new and urgent concerns. Architects play a key role in decarbonization and creating sustainable buildings. By embracing decarbonization, they can help mitigate climate change, protect natural resources, and promote human well-being.

Why go sustainable?

Chicago Decarbonization Plan © Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

Considering the colossal carbon footprint that the AEC industry leaves behind, it is imperative to take immediate action to mitigate the detrimental effects of climate change. One way to approach this problem is by addressing the main contributor to it—the increasing number of carbon emissions.

According to the United Nations, the building and construction sector is responsible for nearly 40% of global carbon emissions. This staggering number highlights the urgency of decarbonization architecture, which could potentially prove to be a crucial step in achieving sustainability and ensuring a brighter future for our planet.

Design strategies to decarbonization architecture

Should I Stay or Should I Go: The Embodied Carbon of Buildings, IMT © Northeast Sustainable Energy Association

From designing with passive systems to utilizing renewable energy sources and sustainable materials, there are a variety of approaches to decarbonization architecture. Mentioned below are a few of the strategies that can efficiently help to achieve that.

Reduce the amount of embodied carbon

Embodied carbon refers to the carbon emissions associated with the production, transportation, and construction of building materials. Carbon emitted during this process significantly impacts the overall sustainability of a project.

One way of reducing embodied carbon includes using low-carbon materials, such as those made from renewable or recycled sources, that would help reduce waste during construction and minimize transportation costs.

Design for adaptability and resilience

Vertical garden with green trees on the building.

The term “future environment” pertains to the anticipated alterations likely to occur in the environment of the impending future. This possibility encompasses phenomena ranging from climate change and population rise to rapid urbanization and resource depletion. Keeping these factors in mind, there is an urgency to initiate several sustainable approaches that contribute to making the world a better place. Designing buildings for the future involves designing buildings and spaces that are responsive to the changing environment, ones that can withstand the potential risks and hazards of future stimuli.

An excellent way to create a more inclusive environment would be by introducing flexible layouts that can be easily reconfigured to meet the changing needs of the future. Designing such spaces will not only allow them to serve more functions but also help create a responsive environment that can adapt to the changes in weather or temperature of the future.

Invest in renewable energy

Solar Pine by HG-Architecture

The use of renewable sources of energy can significantly shift the dependence of energy demand from power lines to now more self-sufficient sources. By prioritizing the integration of renewable energy sources and energy-efficient design practices, architects can help reduce a building’s reliance on non-renewable energy sources and promote a more sustainable and resilient built environment.

This may involve the integration of advanced building technologies such as photovoltaic (PV) panels or wind turbines, which can effectively substantially reduce its carbon footprint. Moreover, architects can also incorporate energy-efficient design practices, including natural ventilation, daylighting, and passive solar heating and cooling systems, to promote energy optimization and thereby further reduce overall energy consumption. By prioritizing these design interventions, architects can optimize building design and minimize environmental degradation while fostering sustainable development.

Implement carbon offsetting

© EDGE Buildings

A carbon offset is a mechanism that allows for the compensation of carbon emissions by supporting projects that help minimize carbon content from the environment. The way that it works is by compensating the total amount of carbon expelled into the environment, with some incentive, that is further used to either promote clean energy (by capturing and using methane emissions from landfills or agricultural activities) or remove carbon emissions from another source (through afforestation, reforestation, or soil carbon sequestration techniques).

Although carbon offsets can be an effective tool for achieving carbon neutrality, it is essential to remember that they should be used in conjunction with efforts to reduce emissions at the source. By combining carbon offsets with sustainable practices, users can take a proactive role in addressing climate change and reducing their impact on the environment.

Install building automation systems

Building Automation Systems © Lembergelectric

Building Automation Systems (BAS) consist of a network of sensors, actuators, and controllers that communicate with each other to collect data and make decisions about the operation of the building. They use sophisticated algorithmic data about temperature, ventilation, lighting, and security to provide favorable settings for optimizing the building’s performance, enhancing the user’s comfort, and reducing the environmental impact of buildings. This can help reduce the stress on the electrical grid, lower energy costs, and reduce the carbon footprint of the building. Eventually helping us reach the goal of sustainability more efficiently and with a feasible approach.

Remember the 3R principle

The three sustainability principles are:
Reduce the amount of energy consumed
Reuse renewable energy generation techniques to generate more electricity
Recycle residual energy.

Adopting the principles of reduce, recycle, and reuse is a critical step in decarbonization architecture. By reducing the number of materials used in construction, architects can minimize the carbon footprint of their buildings. This can be achieved through careful planning and design, as well as the use of sustainable materials such as bamboo, recycled wood, and steel. Recycling materials and reusing building components such as windows, doors, and structural elements can also significantly reduce the amount of waste generated during construction and demolition, which in turn reduces the carbon footprint. Additionally, designing buildings that are adaptable and can be repurposed for future use can help extend the lifespan of a building and reduce the need for new construction.

Here is an article about How recycled materials are changing the face of architecture?

Seek inspiration from the vernacular design

Trepca © Architecture for Humans

Architects can seek inspiration from vernacular design in several ways. Vernacular architecture is the type of architecture that is built to meet the specific needs and conditions of a particular region or culture. By studying vernacular design, architects can gain insight into how different societies have adapted their building styles to their natural and cultural environments. This can provide architects with a deep understanding of how to design buildings that are appropriate to their context and climate.

Additionally, vernacular design often utilizes local materials and construction techniques, which can inform sustainable building practices. By incorporating these elements into their designs, architects can create buildings that are not only functional but also environmentally conscious. Furthermore, vernacular design often incorporates cultural motifs and symbols, which can add a unique sense of identity and place to a building. By incorporating these elements into their designs, architects can create buildings that have a strong connection to their cultural context and help preserve local traditions.

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