By Eleanor Worthington: Arts Columnist
Climate Change has been an ever-present crisis throughout many of our lifetimes and will unequivocally remain a harrowing cataclysm for future generations.
We come face to face with the subject even through the minutiae of everyday life and are reminded on the news and through social media of the greater ramifications happening globally as a result of our negligence and lack of motivation to make a change. Despite this, environmental activism and awareness is noticeably being practiced more in sectors that vastly contribute to global warming and ultimately Climate Change, particularly Architecture and the built environment.
Contributing 40% to all global greenhouse gas emissions, the built environment is a leading concern to the matter of global warming. So why isn’t this pressure and guilt-ridden omnipresence catalising us to redefine the sustainability of our architecture and further challenge 21st century design norms? Many architects and designers have already been practicing with a sustainable conscience, evidently seen with the pockets of sustainable urban spaces across the world, but with the inhuman scale of global warming, unless we operate to the level of these hyper-objective crises we will never be able to holistically and completely eradicate the problems that they present.
As a responsible profession, architects must ideate the future form, materiality and construction of their new designs. Form shouldn’t have to follow function and by extrapolating this notion, it will encourage architects and the architects of the future to see past the first 50 years of the building’s life. This is paramount as we should be striving for the architecture of today and tomorrow to match the longevity of global warming and Climate Change, and it too should become a ‘hyper object’. Architects should not only go beyond addressing the environmental consequences of their energy consumptions but re-evaluate the phrase ‘less is more’, coined by architect Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe and endorsed by many modernist architects, and divagate our perspective of today’s aesthetics.
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Today’s architecture most commonly requires concrete as the primary weight baring structure and often for aesthetics too. Despite the outstanding structural properties and abundance of concrete, it contains a binder, cement, which is one of the main producers of carbon dioxide and is therefore a predominant contributor to the ongoing crisis.
Sustainable architecture looks at shifting the norm of concrete and demonstrates an ability to experiment with different materials and develop new technologies and methodologies for using them. Whilst still creating more energy than they consume, sustainable designs, arguably, don’t lack aesthetical gratification and have prompted an elegant identity of their own.
The materiality of sustainable architecture is characterised primarily by locally and ethically sourced timber, recycled materials, and technologies that allow to design to function with little to no impact on the environment, such as solar panels. The use of natural materials such as timber has practical advantages as well as environmental: the construction becomes decentralised and can easily be maintained. Meaning, for example, single timber components can be removed, replaced and repaired at any time with more ease, contrasting to buildings with a concrete core that will have to be replace entirely as they lack interchangeable components. Furthermore, timber is an inherent carbon sink; trees absorb and retain carbon dioxide until they decay. When timber is used as components of construction, they neutralise thus neutralising the designs carbon footprint.
So, if there were to be a complete paradigm shift and all buildings were to be designed with sustainability as the uppermost important factor of the brief, surpassing cost, logistics, time and function, what would the cities around the world look like tomorrow? How will the buildings present themselves? You would hope that a green utopia would emerge providing a cleaner, healthier and viable environment for the populace of the world. It would ultimately transform the society we are today, that yearn for more nature, and impact how we live our lives and enforce the norms of a sustainable lifestyle.
Architecture is the most manipulative form of representing an ideology and could potentially combat climate change by leading and influencing the world to overcome and adapt this crisis. The built environment is leading us into a losing battle with climate change and towards an uninhabitable world for our future generations, so why can’t it be the sector lead us away?