How Sustainable Architecture Could Help Reduce Global Emissions

Amid efforts to reduce the carbon footprint associated with the construction industry, there is growing recognition of the benefits of sustainable and regenerative architecture as a way to reduce emissions.

The construction sector is one of the biggest polluters in the world. According to the “2019 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction” published by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the sector accounts for nearly 40% of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.

In light of this, greater emphasis has been placed on sustainable architecture in recent years.

Although definitions vary somewhat, sustainable architecture is generally considered to be architecture that seeks to minimize the negative environmental impact of buildings. This is often achieved through the use of environmentally friendly and low-emitting materials, as well as site-specific designs that utilize the natural environment to improve efficiency and reduce costs in areas such as as lighting and heating.

Although much progress has been made in sustainable architecture in recent years, there is still significant potential for improvement.

According to UNEP International Resource Panel modeling, material cycle emissions from residential buildings in the G7 and China could be reduced by at least 80% by 2050.

This could be achieved through a series of material efficiency strategies, such as building with fewer or alternative components, or recycling more building materials.

Sustainable Architecture in Emerging Markets

Some emerging markets are taking the lead in sustainable architecture, often incorporating traditional designs and materials into construction.

For example, in March, Diébédo Francis Kéré, a Burkinabe architect, became the first African to receive the Pritzker Prize, widely considered the world’s most prestigious architectural prize, for his work designing sustainable buildings in Africa.

By revising and modernizing traditional building techniques, buildings in Kéré blend into the natural environment to improve their efficiency in terms of lighting, heating and cooling – and are therefore more energy efficient.

His first big project – a one-story school in his home village of Gando in Burkina Faso – includes a filtered light system that lets natural light into the building while keeping the interior cool.

He has since designed schools, health centers, assembly halls and other public buildings in Benin, Mali, Togo, Kenya, Mozambique and Sudan. Kéré works closely with local builders who use indigenous, low-tech building methods and locally available materials.

Using a technique known as ‘ram construction’, which deploys environmentally friendly materials such as gravel, mud and sand, along with a small amount of cement, the company built a number of sustainable housing and construction projects across the country.

The technique has been shown to reduce heat and humidity in a building, resulting in an estimated 30% reduction in carbon emissions through reduced energy consumption.

Elsewhere, in an example of large-scale sustainable infrastructure development, Qatar plans to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in November and December as a carbon-neutral event, meaning all infrastructure, including tournament stadiums, will meet sustainability criteria.

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Innovations include the use of recycled materials during construction and the implementation of a series of water and energy saving solutions.

The country has also built the first fully collapsible stadium in World Cup history: Ras Abu Aboud Stadium 974 is made from modular shipping containers and will be redeveloped into a range of sports facilities after the tournament .

In total, Qatar says the tournament stadiums will be 30% more efficient than international benchmarks through the use of energy efficient features such as thick insulation, efficient cooling and ventilation, LED lighting and control systems buildings.

Organizers should also use 40% less water than international benchmarks. For example, water vapor collected from the cooling system will be used for irrigation, while water-saving devices have been installed in sinks, showers and toilets.

Regenerative Architecture

In recent times there have also been discussions about the benefits of regenerative architecture.

Regenerative architecture refers to the design of buildings that reverse damage and have a net positive impact on the environment.

An example is Ilima Primary School in Tshuapa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Located between farmland and jungle, the school was designed to act as a bridge between the two landscapes.

Made up of custom shingles, mud bricks and beams made from local materials, the school also features woven and dyed vines that grow around the building to keep the interior cool.

The construction of the school emitted 307 tons less carbon than the world average for schools of the same size.

The pilot installation of the Sahara Forest project in Qatar is another example of regenerative architecture. Since construction began in 2012, the salt-water-cooled greenhouse has attracted a number of birds, grasshoppers, butterflies and rodents to an area that was once an arid desert.

By Oxford Business Group

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