One of the topics I write about most often on the blog is sustainable buildings. There are a few reasons why. One is that in another life, I could happily have been an architect. (I’m not a complete geek, but the doll’s house I’m currently building for Christmas meets Le Corbusier’s five points) Beyond my personal interest, buildings are priority number one when it comes to lowering our carbon emissions. It varies across regions, but globally, buildings account for around a third of CO2 emissions.
Around 45% of America’s emissions come from constructing or running buildings. The battle for a safe climate is being fought over how we heat, cool and light our homes, shops and public buildings.
Improving the efficiency of buildings also has multiple benefits, so it should be an uncontroversial place to start in bringing emissions down. While cutting CO2, sustainable buildings also save their occupants money and make them more comfortable. Sustainable architecture should be something we can all agree on, and President Obama’s Better Buildings Initiative is one of his environmental proposals that hasn’t been stamped on by opponents.
Finally, there is an urgency to this particular topic because the built environment locks us into high energy consumption. If you make an energy inefficient mobile phone, it’ll be used for a year to two before it is replaced by something better. A car will be on the roads for 10-12 years on average. But a home or a school? That’s going to be there for a century or more. If you make a bad building, it pushes us into high energy use for decades to come.
There is an added dimension to all this that makes it particularly important for developing countries, as I was reminded while reading Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything recently:
“It makes sense to focus our actions where it can have the greatest impact. ANd that’s clearly in the Global South… Building stock in the Asia Pacific region is projected to grow by a dramatic 47 percent by 2021, while remaining relatively stable in the developed world. That means that, while making existing buildings more energy efficient is important wherever we are, there is nothing more important than helping ensure that the new structure in Asia are built to the highest standards of efficiency.”
In Britain, our infrastructure is well established, and while there’s a lot of retrofitting to do and no excuse not to deliver the best possible new-builds, most of our big building projects are in the past. For fast-growing economies in Asia, Africa and South America, there’s a huge amount still to come. To avoid dangerous climate change, architecture in emerging economies has to be sustainable first time round.
This is a challenge to me in my building of the week series. I’ve tended to feature British projects, since those are the ones I’m most likely to hear about. But the real action is in China, Brazil, or Indonesia, and I’m going to have to work a little harder to find good case studies from there. It’s also a challenge to you, since many of the buildings I write about are suggested by readers. Let me know what you find!