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Architecture and Sustainability

Updated: Mar 16, 2022

Architecture’s relationship with climate change is two-fold, the current practices of construction are unsustainable and polluting which in turn creates the need for climate resistant architecture. The current rate in which we build and the way we build needs to be addressed and reimagined. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has been increasing since the industrial age, combined with the rise globalization in the 1980s, both events causing leading to the expansion of cities and the snowballing development of new homes.In 2013 the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere passed 400 parts per million for the first time since the Pliocene Epoch, 3 million to 5 million years ago. Climate change is causing higher temperatures which are contributing to record heat waves and droughts, rising sea levels, more intense storms, wildfires, and floods, and other extreme conditions There is now a need to build both sustainable buildings and ones that can withstand natural disasters to minimize emissions, as well as resilience, to bolster cities, towns, buildings, and infrastructure so they can endure the storms to come.

Architecture and construction need to become sustainable, the need for new buildings will not slow down so the industry instead must smarten up. The operational carbon of buildings (the emissions caused by lighting, and other energy-consuming operations) is the biggest problem to tackle. Architects can implement change through sensible and efficient energy saving design to help lower emission levels. There are commitments in place such as the American Institute of Architects 2030 commitment which is in line with the Paris Agreement and aims to track and reduce emissions in the industry. More sustainable materials need to be introduced into construction and the least sustainable ones need to become phased-out wherever possible. Steel, concrete, aluminium, and foam insulation use must be minimised, this can be achieved through smart design minimalizing use and the use of alternative more sustainable materials. Buildings must also be designed with renewable energy in mind, allowing space for solar panels and moving away from fossil fuels is a must. Aside from newbuilds, it is important that the vast quantities of unsustainable existing building are retrofitted, adapting them to meet sustainability standards. This can be achieved through introducing renewable energy sources, swapping out existing lighting and electricity sources for low emission and low energy usage alternatives and insulating to ensure heat is trapped more efficiently, lessening the usage of artificial heating.

Climate change and the devastating effects brought with it have the potential to dramatically change architecture in the future. Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut has developed plans for a city of futuristic ocean buildings made from 3D-printed plastic waste which extend 1,000 metres below the water's surface. The design project named Aequorea after a type of jellyfish is a fictional water city off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. The futuristic ocean city would be self-sustained from the ocean. The concept is intended to highlight the loss of natural resources on land and the need to clean up the oceans which are filled with waste created by dumping plastic in the ocean. Despite the project being fictional there are similar real-world possibilities being presented by architects. Japanese company Shimizu Corp have suggested underwater cities could be possible in the next decade, infrastructure networks spiralling down into the depths of the oceans could be a reality as soon as 2030. The structures which would go 2.5 miles below the oceans surface would be made from 3D printed materials and could create self-sustaining communities of up to 5000 people. Each spiral would be topped by a floating dome with businesses, homes, and hotels, which would submerge underwater during bad weather conditions. The company and their scientists suggest micro-organisms would be utilised to turn carbon-dioxide into methane which would be used for power along with using sea water temperature to create power. They believe that the technology to sustain underwater life will be ready in 15 years, meaning this futuristic Atlantis could theoretically become a reality.

The reality of ocean cities could become a necessity. The continuation of rising sea levels due to climate change could force our hand, average sea levels have swelled over 8 inches since 1880, with about three of those inches gained in the last 25 years. Many island nations are already under threat from rising sea levels, decades into the future rising sea levels will leave whole countries submerged. There will be mass migration and potentially war as millions of people search for a new home. Potentially ocean cities could become a reality as we run out of land, hopefully this will not become a necessity for survival. We have the means and the knowledge to try to halt climate change from realising its worst potential, it is just a case of how soon we act.

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