Climate Change and Architecture


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What will the future hold is a question that we ponder from time to time and is relevant to this day, especially with how we are progressing. It may not be colonizing Mars or a space hotel, but contemporary architecture is optimistic about how we build homes of the future. We saw how the construction industry changed dramatically, where traditional spatial concepts are obsolete.

We have a rise of designs that tackles sustainability, and the lines between private and public space are slowly blurring. We are now in a time where design and architecture that we know before are likely to disappear. We will see technology as an active contributor to the future of architecture and its social impacts. It will become an interdisciplinary endeavor that will even require environmentalists and anthropologies to work with the design. We will see a paradigm shift.

Architecture exists to create a place for us to live, work, and play, but it is more than that. It redefines our culture as it represents the changing norms in our society and how we see the world around us. It may be a bit cliche, but it is what it is. Architecture tells the story of more than just static blocks of concrete or a pile of wood. It can help us understand how cities become progressive or how tradition flourishes. Architecture is always part of that. As I have hinted earlier, architecture is changing, and the future may hold different, but I am sure that it is still a space that tells stories.


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This blog is the first part of a short series linking design, architecture, and social issues. It may range from climate change to poverty, racism, and even disability, but not limited to that. To kickstart the series, we start with one thing that resurfaces as a priority in our design discussions and a key element on what the future holds. Climate is changing, and what do we need to do about it.

We can't deny that we emit tons of carbon dioxides, whether from industries, transportation, electricity generation, and even in construction. As a consequence, our climate is erratic, and climate change becomes as clear as water. The construction industry contributes a significant emission due to materials and the process in construction but minimized by creating a sustainable design, material, and construction processes. We are becoming conscious of how our designs affect climate change and the causes for sustainability rise to the occasion. Although it is a bit obvious, we still overlook the role of materials in sustainability. A better material can have a zero carbon footprint.

While climate change is a challenge, our innate ingenuity boosts our chance to redefine design to become sustainable but calls for quitting the status quo that is a monumental element in the past years. Going carbon neutral is a bold claim, and we often hear it from every corner of our built world, but, for some reason, it is still an airy word until now. It is a hard pill to swallow, but it is true. We fancied going carbon neutral, but our actions are not sustainable. Even if we shut down our carbon emission out of thin air, for us to drastically overturn climate change, we should be consistent with our climate actions. Shutting down one can make another one pop up, and the cycle continues.



Giving materials a second look


Cement has been the go-to material for our built world. Our use of cement is unsustainable in that we are roughly taking out tonnes of sand and gravel from our beaches and natural resources. It results in carbon emissions of at least 8%. We are now at a crossroads to take into a means to make cement sustainable or find a new material that is sustainable and cheap to reproduce.

A team in the Netherlands was able to mix concrete and bacteria to produce self-healing concretes. It has a mechanism to repair cracks by exposing to chemical and water. It can help us reduce our repair cost for buildings and can significantly help with carbon emissions. Aside from mixing bacteria, we can also have nanomaterials to create self-healing concretes. We can also use natural clays, wood, and bamboo in our built structures, but it can't be as cheap as cement and speedy to work within construction.

Bamboo is a versatile material having a compressive strength above wood, bricks, and concrete. At the same time, a tensile is on par with still. We can use bamboo in flooring to structures and becoming recognized in the global community. We can see it transcend from material for temporary scaffolding to more permanent building material in recent times.

Throughout history, we used wood in construction, like Cross-laminated timbers, and it has a significant capacity to absorb an enormous amount of carbon emission in our environment. Cross-laminated timbers and hempcrete are some of the bio-composite materials that influence how we design our built world. Cross-laminated Timbers are versatile that, in some cases, used in model wood skyscrapers. Hempcrete is hemp of a balsa-woodlike core of cannabis plant, lime, and water that is lightweight and durable but unsuited for structures. It suits well as a sustainable finishing material.

When we understand the materials wear working with, we can relatively work out a solution to curve carbon emission without compromising the safety of our built environment. We need to think of regenerative ways to use our materials or have materials that can be recycled and upcycle. It is critical in design and architecture to use our trash as new materials in our built world, much like recycled plastic as bricks.



Learning from and connecting to nature


Nature has been solving issues for the last 3.6 billion years and has been successful. It has a rich list of solutions that enables us to make our design carbon-neutral. When we employ biomimicry in our design, we are imitating and learning natural processes. We view nature as a mentor and model to make sustainable action to our design problem. We can mimic organisms, their behaviors, and their ecosystem.

Rather than imitating natural structures, we strive to understand nature's mechanisms. It can help us combat climate change by integrating these mechanisms in our design for our built world. Our natural ecosystems are incredible at absorbing carbon dioxide and converting it into sustainable materials. We can create healthier habitats via our designs that both infrastructure and ecosystems can work together to promote climate change resistance.

While biomimicry is to learn from nature, biophilia takes advantage of human and nature relationships between the built environment. Biophilia promotes the integration of nature to boost human-nature relations and our well-being and helps regenerate natural systems in urban space. When we resonate with biophilic design, we incorporate nature into our built environment internally and externally to increase wellness. Aside from the anthropocentric goals of biophilia, it can help us combat the heat in cities and filter out carbon emissions. As a result, it can work with climate change resistance.


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Retrofit, Restore, and Regenerate


The next phase of our quest for sustainability and climate action in architecture and design is Restorative or regenerative architecture. We can design buildings that go beyond mere dwellings but enhancing our environment by restoring the area's lost natural resources, disruptive natural system, and even to some extent restore wildlife. We can have designs that are off-grid and can produce their energy, catch their water and recycle their trashes. Some architecture can give off excess energy to be benefited by its neighbors.

Above all, restorative design means reversing the damages we caused in constructing the built environment. The regenerative design approach encourages us to connect physical, built, and natural environments. The restorative design also calls for a better understanding of thermodynamics and material science that dictates the overall performance of our built space against softer or adverse climates. It necessitates us to engage with sustainable design and architecture.

Aside from restorative or regenerative principles, retrofitting can help us minimized carbon emission and waste. We carried out retrofitting to improve the energy and thermal performance of the building, which will result in the reduction of dependency on heating and cooling. Retrofitting is also about upgrading structures rather than demolishing them. When we prioritize rehabilitation over demolition, we can keep material and use it for an extended period. It will eventually cut our carbon emissions due to the postponement of demolition.


Looking ahead


I started the blog by contemplating what will the future hold. The distant future of architecture and design may be urban homes on Mars or space hotels. But the near future is our conscious action to combat climate change and be sustainable, or how architecture and design help with social issues and have a better human and spatial experience. The architecture will be interdisciplinary and cause a paradigm shift in how we design our built world.

Again, I believe architecture is more than a sketch or concrete block. Architecture conveys a narrative that may help us understand how cities become progressive or how traditions thrive, and architecture is always a component of both. I do hope that our climate stories can be a happy ending. For us to do that, we need to have a built world that is sustainable.

Biomimicry, biophilia, and restorative design enable us to curve carbon emission when applied through our architectural design. Our building materials will have effects on our fight for climate change. How we design our built world can make or brake our response to climate change.


Check out my previous post on Architecture and Design Community

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Readings

  1. Alex Garkavenko, 7 Emerging Materials That Will Change Architecture. In an age of rapid technological development, the material prospects for architecture are truly fascinating., Artchitizer

  2. Tanvir Qureshi and Abir Al-Tabbaa, Self-Healing Concrete and Cementitious Materials, IntechOpen

  3. Davies et. al., Large Scale Application of Self-Healing Concrete: Design, Construction, and Testing, Frontiers in Materials

  4. Africa et. al., Biophilic Design and Climate Change: Performance Parameters for Health, Frontiers in Built Environment

  5. Oguntona Olusegun Aanuoluwapo and Aigbavboa ClintonOhis, Biomimetic Strategies for Climate Change Mitigation in the Built Environment, Energy Procedia

  6. Sarah Nugent, Anna Packard, Erica Brabon, and Stephanie Vierra, Living, Regenerative, And Adaptive Buildings, Whole Building Design Guide

  7. Lizzie Crook, Ten ways in which architecture is addressing climate change, Dezeen

Featured Architecture (Photo credit):

  1. Garden by the Bay is Singapore's architecture that exemplifies the effectiveness of reintroducing nature into an urban setting. | Photo from Danijel Mihajlovic, Mokkie, Allie Caulfield, and Allie Caulfield

  2. The Mjøstårnet in Norway is an 18-story skyscraper north of Oslo that stands slightly taller than 85 meters, with the majority. While the photo consisting of workers installing wood blocks depict how Vancouver's Brock Commons, the World's Tallest Mass Timber Building, constructed. Ricardo Foto and Archdaily

  3. Sagrada Familia is Gaud's most famous masterpiece that is still in construction to date. Gaud used biomimetic design principles for the cathedral. | Photo from Walkerssk, Falco, Kevin Ramirez , and Free-photos/Pixabay

  4. Boekhandel is an ancient church ruin that has been converted into a bookshop,the Bookhandel. It was named the world's most beautiful restored bookshop. | Photo from Boekhandel Dominicanen Kerk, Phaidon, and Otter

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