Architecture “lagging behind all other sectors” in climate change fight

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“Inertia” in the built environment sector, according to Yamina Saheb is yet another proof that Architecture is “lagging behind all other sectors” in the climate change fight. Here is the story as per DEZEEN.

Architecture “lagging behind all other sectors” in climate change fight says IPCC report author

By Jennifer Hahn

Efforts to halt catastrophic climate change are being held back by “inertia” in the built environment sector, according to Yamina Saheb, co-author of the latest report from the United Nations climate change panel.

“The sector hasn’t modernised at all since the second world war,” she told Dezeen. “And now, the data shows it’s lagging behind all other sectors.”

“Each gram of greenhouse gas emissions from buildings means a mistake in their design,” added Saheb, a former policy analyst for the European Commission and the International Energy Agency.

“Architects and urban planners should really look at this report carefully and rethink the way they work.”

Up to 61 per cent of building emissions could be cut by 2050 using technologies available today, the Mitigation of Climate Change report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found.

But progress has so far been held back by widespread “inertia,” as well as a lack of ambition and prioritising of short-term solutions and profits over long-term gains, Saheb said.

Architects are key to mitigating climate change

The report, which was written by Saheb alongside more than 270 scientists from 65 countries, is the final instalment in the IPCC’s three-part review of the current state of climate science.

Following on from two earlier reports covering its causes and effects, the report sets out a plan for how global warming could be mitigated.

The decarbonisation pledges made by international governments in a bid to halve emissions by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050 are simply not enough, the report found, falling short by as much as 23 billion tons of CO2e.

Yamina Saheb co-authored the latest IPCC report

As a result, the world is on track to warm by more than double the 1.5-degree limit set out in the Paris Climate Agreement this century.

“Covering up for these shortfalls will require taking actions across all sectors that can substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” the report states.

The built environment is among the key sectors highlighted in the report that could help the world to cut emissions by 50 per cent this decade.

“Either get this right or it’s wrong forever”

Urgent action is needed from the sector before 2030, the report says, as the long lifespan of buildings and infrastructure locks in emissions and polluting behaviours for decades to come.

“Residential buildings undergo major renovation once every 25 years,” Saheb explained. “That means if you’re not renovating a building to zero-emissions standards this decade, it will not be renovated to this level by 2050 either.”

“For buildings, there is only one round left between now and 2050, so we either get this right or it’s wrong forever.”

Retrofitting is the single most effective strategy for developed countries to limit emissions from buildings, the report found. But so far, “low renovation rates and low ambition” have hindered large-scale emissions reductions.Read:IPCC climate report a “call to arms” say architects and designers

This can be traced back to the construction industry’s lack of digitisation, Saheb argues, and the fact that homeowners have to organise every element of a retrofit, from the heat pump to the insulation, themselves.

“If you need to repair your car, you don’t have to think about each piece separately,” Saheb said. “You just take it to a garage, they fix it and you don’t care about the details.”

“But for a renovation, you as an individual are required to arrange all the details yourself, which is crazy and unrealistic,” she added. “We should have IKEA kits for renovating our buildings.”

“And in Europe, we need to make renovation mandatory to zero-carbon standards. If we don’t have this required by law, it will never happen.”

Sufficiency undervalued due to financial interests 

Crucially, the report also highlights that architects and urban planners have so far neglected to focus on designing for “sufficiency”.

Unlike efficiency measures, which are marginal short-term technological improvements, this term is used to describe broader strategies such as passive cooling, bioclimatic design and prioritising the construction of denser multifamily homes.

These kinds of measures can drastically reduce a building’s demand for energy, materials, land and water over its lifecycle, without relying on added technology and materials that will need to be produced, powered and maintained.

Bioclimatic design strategies include solar chimneys, as used in Casa Flores by Fuster + Architects

“If you design a new development with lots of single-family homes, you will need more land and more construction materials, as well as more energy and water in use than if you go for multifamily buildings,” Saheb said.

“And then you lock the city where you’re building into emissions and car-dependent mobility for generations. This shows how urban and land-use policies will play a major role in the decarbonisation of buildings, which was not considered before.”

Part of the reason that this has so far been undervalued is the fact that architects and urban planners get paid based on the number of square miles they build, Saheb argues, so designing more compact structures runs against their financial interests.

“No one is questioning if the way they make money is aligned with their contribution to climate mitigation,” she said.

Efficiency is not enough

The industry’s failure to adapt sufficiency strategies so far has actually counteracted emissions reductions achieved by making buildings more energy efficient, the report found.

Adding insulation, switching to more modern appliances and other efficiency measures reduced building emissions by 49 per cent between 1990 and 2019. But the lack of sufficiency measures led to a simultaneous emissions increase of 52 per cent.

“The efficiency improvement was fully offset by the lack of sufficiency measures,” Saheb said.

“Previously, climate mitigation policies for buildings included only energy efficiency and the supply with renewables. And we know today that without sufficiency, this is not enough.”

The top image shows Maya Lin’s Ghost Forest installation.

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UNEP guide calls for ‘green-blue’ building solutions

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Perhaps more so than most sectors, construction could significantly benefit from a shift towards more sustainable practices. But because all construction endeavour starts with a design phase, 

Don Wall writes in Canada Construction Connect that the UNEP guide calls for ‘green-blue’ building solutions. For it advises for natural solutions to climate-related building design problems—no more minor. Let us see what it is all about.

The picture above is for illustration and is of UNEP – UN Environment

UNEP guide calls for ‘green-blue’ building solutions

NELSNELSON WIKIPEDIA C.C. 3.0 — A new UN Environment Program document calls for natural solutions to climate-related building design problems. Retention of existing wetlands is recommended; pictured, an engineered wetland in Germany.

A new guide to climate-resilient building around the globe documents the escalating property and human costs of climate disruption, highlights the need to develop green and blue infrastructure solutions and targets improved knowledge transfer throughout construction.

Released July 6 by the UN Environment Program (UNEP), the document is called A Practical Guide to Climate-resilient Buildings and Communities. A live-steamed global presentation featured the UNEP’s Eva Comba, the report co-ordinator, and lead authors Rajat Gupta of Oxford Brookes University, Mittul Vahanvati of RMIT University and Jacob Halcomb of SEfficiency.

The guide has a heavy focus on climate resistance in developing nations but with transferrable lessons to developed nations such as Canada and the United States and warns that floods and wildfires are creating accelerating risks on this continent as well.

“Why did we decide to focus on the buildings and construction sector? Because buildings can be key drivers of vulnerability when they are ill-suited to their local environment, and when they are strongly exposed to extreme climate conditions they largely contribute to high human and economic losses,” said Comba.

“On the other side we also see that smartly designed and constructed buildings can ensure the safety and well-being of the residents and they can actually protect them against climate change impacts.”

FILE PHOTO — UNEP’s new Practical Guide to Climate-resilient Buildings and Communities warns of heat islands in large cities, where density without adequate shading and other mitigation leads to higher temperatures.

Comba noted a World Bank study showed that investing in more resilient infrastructure could save humanity more than $4.2 trillion, and another recent study indicated that adopting the latest building codes produced by the International Code Council will save on average $11 per dollar invested, “which makes it a very cost-efficient adaptation measure,” Comba said.

There were 91 million people affected by natural disasters across the globe in 2019, and US$210 billion in global losses from natural disasters in 2020.

It’s expected 1.6-billion urban dwellers will be exposed to extreme high temperatures by 2050 and 800 million people living in 570 cities will be vulnerable to sea level rise and coastal flooding by 2050.

Comba said the actual adaptation costs for the developing world alone are estimated to be currently at $70 billion per year, and it’s a number that is going to increase to reach an estimated $300 billion per year by 2030.

Gupta referred to record-setting heat episodes in Canada and the U.S. in recent weeks in pointing to the need for heat-mitigation strategies even in temperate climates. The need is heightened in high-density areas, he added.

“This gets even more exacerbated because of poor building design and operation because the buildings are not designed to manage heat,” he said.

“We also have in cities what we call the urban heat island effect where you have higher temperatures in the city than the rural areas and this can further be exacerbated by the housing density and the housing quality, so building design matters.”

Offering comment from a Canadian perspective, Thomas Mueller, president and CEO of the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), sent a statement noting that enhancing climate-resilience is imperative for all buildings in cities large and small.

“Last month’s heat wave in British Columbia is just one example of how the built environment must adapt to face more extreme weather events and keep people healthy and safe through unforeseen weather events.”

The federal government and agencies like the CaGBC have a major role to play through adopting and promoting green building programs and standards such as LEED and the Zero Carbon Building Standard, Mueller said.

He also praised the guide’s espousal of nature-based solutions (NBS), which he called an area of tremendous potential.

“Nature-based solutions, tied to low-impact development and green building practices, can help to mitigate risks,” stated Mueller.

Referring to NBS, the report argued the vulnerability of an individual building is greatly influenced by its broader context. Green-blue solutions will mean an increased focus on preserving and enhancing ponds, wetlands and riparian zones.

NBS to combat heat vulnerability can have broader co-benefits such as flood management, drought management, dust reduction, improving biodiversity, increased health and well-being of residents, and improved air quality.

Gupta discussed how trees and other buildings can provide shading and that vegetation and buildings on sites can capture and direct wind flow for natural ventilation or cooling effect.

Designers need to minimize east-west-facing wall lengths and develop high albedo (reflective materials) strategies to cool roofs, added Gupta.

The UNEP has prioritized passive design solutions over those that require more technical or complex inputs such as mechanical heating or cooling systems.

Halcomb expanded on one theme of the guide, which is that resilient people beget resilient buildings.

“They really come together, hand-in-hand, and attention should be paid to the needs of the inhabitants and building users of all ages, genders, financial means and physical ability,” he said. “Risk reduction and adaptation really benefit from whole-of-life thinking.”

Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

Time To Stop Relying On Outdated Building Codes

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CleanTechnica written up by Carolyn Fortuna provides an overview of the specific situation of the struggle against climate change in the developed world via building better-adapted codes. So is it time to stop relying on Outdated Building Codes?
Instead of adopting the same process in the MENA region, it was decided to opt for solar/renewable Building Codes instead, quickly labelled Green Buildings. These are at this conjecture, a popular demand-side support scheme by the industry.
Green buildings contribute to sustainable construction and environment and benefit building owners and users with increased comfort, healthier indoor environment quality, and enhanced durability and fewer maintenance costs.
The impact of such green building codes on solar thermal technology is relatively small. And despite that, several countries in the MENA region have shown keen interest in adopting a unified green building code.
So, what to do?

It’s Time To Stop Relying On Outdated Building Codes

Building codes and referenced standards need to be updated to replace historical weather data with future-focused climate data.

Outdated building codes are a real problem. Today’s changing global weather and other unexpected events such as high winds, flooding, wildfires, and heatwaves makes it imperative for international collaboration to design updated, practical, and appropriate codes. Building codes rely on climate data, and that data is generally updated on a 10-year cycle. The requirements related to structural/ atmospheric loads for wind and snow/ ice, energy use/heat stress, flooding, and wildfire/ bushfire protection have changed tremendously in the last 10 years due to the climate crisis.

It’s time for countries around the world to step up and assess the way they review building codes.

As the weather becomes more severe from year to year, the underlying historical data simply does not accurately reflect the risk to buildings as a result of these extreme weather-related events. The building codes in some countries, particularly in Europe and the US, do reference design standards and dictate the energy performance and structural standards that impact wind loads and snow/ice loads. The issue is that the underlying data is updated on an “as needed” basis, which can exceed the 10 year average.

So a new struggle has emerged in the building industry. Relying on historical climate and weather data no longer provides the same level of safety and resilience for future extreme weather events as they have in past years and decades.

The Global Resiliency Dialogue

Building code developers/ researchers from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the US have launched the Global Resiliency Dialogue as a joint initiative to inform the development of building codes that draw on both building science and climate science. Their goal is to improve the resilience of buildings and communities to intensifying risks from weather-related natural hazards.

The following “Findings on Changing Risk and Building Codes” statement outlines the work by the members of the Global Resiliency Dialogue, including:

  • Identifying strategies for the identification of future risks and the development of building code solutions that support adaptation to those risks
  • Cooperating on the development of international building resilience guidelines and further exploration of the relationship with land use planning instruments that help determine the location of buildings
  • Supporting research initiatives to better understand climate science, to assist in aligning expectations for building durability and resilience with the projection of future hazards
  • Developing and deploying messages and resources that enhance understanding of building codes, support a common understanding of risk and communicate the importance of up-to-date building codes
  • Advancing risk and impact analysis to recognize the multiple economic and social benefits provided by resilience investments and the desirability of alternative approaches that fully capture the benefits and costs provided by the building codes

The primary function of building codes universally is to protect life/human safety. Often this requires structural durability, resistance to fire, adequate means of egress, and other related functions to ensure that lives are protected. However, in discussions of natural hazard mitigation and community resilience, particularly as risks continue to become more severe and impact different geographic locations, the question of greater levels of property protection and bounce back recovery of function following an event is increasingly debated by key decision makers.

Survey findings from the Global Resiliency Dialogue describe the status of international building codes today. Currently, none of the building codes in use in the surveyed countries addresses future climate risk – all are focused on addressing risk based on past weather experiences and extreme events. However, — and this is a really good thing — discussions are underway about how to include future-focused risk in outdated building codes. As is to be expected, some countries are farther along than others.

Integrating Climate Data & Building Codes

Most building code development and research organizations rely on outside organizations with expertise in natural environmental sciences to develop the climactic and hazard maps that are included in the codes. The climate data used to inform provisions of building codes is generally not limited to the building safety industry and has the potential to impact other sectors of society. That’s important, particularly because the key science agencies are often national bodies that service the diverse needs of state, provincial, tribal/indigenous, and local jurisdictions.

Most building codes that address extreme events do so as part of the design standard and based on the probability of the occurrence of the specific event, with the design requirements changing based on the potential severity of the event, location, or the importance of the building. Design events are frequently measured in probabilities, with the ratios varying greatly by country with no apparent international consistency. In some cases, certain extreme weather occurrences have been determined as difficult to address through building codes due to either the localization of an event or the severity of the natural forces involved. Two such examples are hailstorms and storm surge impacting coastal regions.

As countries consider modeling scenarios to incorporate future climate-related risk in building codes, one option under wide consideration are Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) – scenarios that consider the emissions and concentrations of the full suite of greenhouse gases, aerosols, and other chemically active gases, along with land use by the year 2100, based on the radiative forcing limit reached on earth before emissions begin to decline. If climate modeling is used, building codes and referenced standards will need to be updated with future-focused climate data. In most countries, this type of change will follow the standard code revision process.

Assuming that code provisions can be adjusted to address future climate risk assessments, countries will need to have a process in place to ensure that the changes are not only adequate but equally suitable and proportionate in scope. This work will fall primarily to the building code development and research organizations in each country, where they utilize their own internal processes. Some entities may develop new standards to assist with regulatory impact analysis.

In the US, a National Climate Assessment is conducted every 4 years by the US Global Change Research Program, a joint effort of 13 federal agencies. To date, the assessment has only  focused on the built environment at a relatively high level. As the fifth assessment gets underway, there may be increased focus on the needs of the design and construction industry, which may result in a deeper dive into outdated building codes.

Final Thoughts About Outdated Building Codes

A whole bunch of job types are involved with the design and implementation of building codes:

  • Academia
  • Architects
  • Building owners/managers
  • Building safety professionals & industry associations
  • Conformity assessment bodies, such as product evaluation services
  • Consumers or consumer advocacy groups
  • Contractors
  • Developers
  • Energy efficiency advocates
  • Engineers
  • Fire safety professionals
  • Government entities: federal/national, state, provincial, tribal, territorial, local
  • Home builders
  • Insurance industry representatives
  • Manufacturers of building products
  • Professional societies
  • Plumbing professionals & industry associations
  • Subcontractors
  • Subject matter experts
  • Supply chain/distributors

As Forbes notes, building codes must keep pace with technology advances in order to help tap much larger potential energy savings and cost reductions. By adapting to reflect the growing trend of fuel-switching and electrification to enable zero-emissions technologies like efficient electric heat pumps and electric vehicles, policymakers can cut consumer costs and harmful pollution while supporting the transition to a clean economy.

Carolyn Fortuna

2021: Beginning anew – a joyful reimagining of our buildings

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Architecture Live! predicts that in 2021: Beginning anew – a joyful reimagining of our buildings as schools! as per SJK Architects professional experience. It is by Madhura Patil.

Write-up and Concept Storyboards by Vaishali Shankar

Illustrations by Kinjal Vora

December 30, 2020


As an architect who has worked on educational buildings, I cringed at these completely closed boxes, but the openness of the education taught in them won and we enrolled our son in an IB school.-SJK Architects.

We were keen on an IB education for our child for the freedom in learning it offers. We loved it’s focus on a thorough understanding of a subject and analytical skills and not on rote memory, and the broad holistic range of subjects that it offers – one of the most open curriculums available today.

But as we scouted for schools and visited a handful, the irony of the centrally air-conditioned, closed, boxy buildings that IB schools have come to be synonymous with, was not lost on us. IB education is quite expensive and so with it comes an expectation for IB schools to have better infrastructure, one common interpretation for which is equating comfort to air-conditioning.

As an architect who has worked on educational buildings, I cringed at these completely closed boxes, but the openness of the education taught in them won and we enrolled our son in an IB school.

00_Introduction sketch 1

August 2020 has come and gone. This month had been eagerly anticipated by my family – it was the start of the new academic year and the first time that my son would start going to a ‘Big’ school! But we are still in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic in semi lockdown state.  With all kind of human contact being discouraged for the fear of contracting and spreading the infection, all schools are physically shut, and so the academic year started on- line. It feels a bit strange that the start of a child’s schooling is in a virtual environment.

Most teachers and schools have been exemplary in learning the ropes of on-line, remote teaching quickly, establishing systems and working very hard to come up with content that keeps kids engaged on-line. But while parents are happy to have schooling resume, most fret about the prolonged exposure to screens and the sense of isolation that the kids may feel.

The understanding that social skills and friendships are essential for mental well-being and key to learning, was never so acutely felt as it is now. And when normalcy does return, will the kids have adjusting issues, they wonder.

For now, these are just thoughts and worries – safety is paramount and social distancing our armour until Covid- 19 is vanquished.

But normalcy will return. And when it does, the favourite question doing rounds is – what will we take back from this strange period in our lives?

With thoughts of physical safety and mental health being top of mind, I and other colleagues turned to thinking about the type of buildings that would serve as thriving post-Covid19 schools in the metros.

Two great needs stand out-

1- To design buildings that do not encourage infections from spreading:

Research suggests that being outdoors or in well ventilated spaces can dilute ‘aerosols’ (or germs as we knew them in the pre-covid times!) enough to minimize tremendously the spread of any infection.

A building that is designed to work with climate, one that invites sunlight and wind through strategically located openings but rejects heat and rain, may be quite comfortable for at least a certain percentage of the year in a tropical country like ours (studies claim upto 80% of the time in all climatic zones in our country). So ensuring open spaces and natural cross-ventilation to the extent possible maybe the way to go!

And when absolutely not possible to achieve a comfortable environment without air-conditioning, alternative technologies like radiant cooling that do not circulate air for cooling or use of specialized filters that clean air in circulation could be employed to prevent air-borne infections from spreading.

2- To design buildings for human connections:

Post this isolation that children have been through, the attention would undoubtedly be towards providing environments that deepen human connections and restore or enrichen the social fabric of their little worlds.

Studies indicate that not only do friendships and social relationships strengthen children emotionally and turn them into well-rounded human beings, but also peer-to-peer sharing will most definitely accelerate learning. Such interactions with peers, often occurs outside the formal space of a classroom – so designing spaces for social interactions is a critical need.

It seems clear that the two responses that emerge– designing buildings with really good ventilation and ensuring spaces for social interactions, are simple yet wonderful principles of design for physical-emotional health and happiness that have been prevalent through all of historic and vernacular architecture, and ones that we at SJK Architects have applied to a variety of projects.

Here’s examining some of our urban projects, ranging from office buildings to residential homes, and spotlighting methodologies that helped accomplish these principles of health and happiness, ones that can easily be applied to post covid school buildings.

One: Use screens to draw wind into the building without gaining heat:

While the non-north faces of the building receive direct sunlight and are way warmer than the north, it may be necessary to open these up to invite the winds in for proper cross-ventilation. Drawing from the use of ‘jalis’ in vernacular and historic buildings, sun-shading devices such as louvers, fins or screens can be added to such non-north openings, ensuring that direct sun (and, therefore, heat) is blocked and not incident into the inner spaces, while the gaps in the ‘jalis’ can still allow wind in.

1_Nagpur House – Jali

Allowing the screens to be movable can give additional flexibility to open up completely in the winters or in cloudy weather, while leaving them shut when the sun is scorching bright.

4_Nagpur House – External Elevation

[Images 1, 2 and 3- Wooden jalis protect the bedrooms and living spaces of a Family Home at Nagpur, allowing for natural ventilation when possible, keeping the interiors cool, well shaded and additionally ensuring privacy.]

Two: Open up the North for drawing wind into the building and for social spaces:

The north face of the building receives the best shade (in our hemisphere) and is, therefore, the coolest! So, it makes sense to open up the north of the building. One can easily provide windows to draw wind into the building from the north. But, additionally, one can also step out into comfortable, well-shaded courtyards, balconies and other social spaces that can be carved out of the north face of the building. Providing these courtyards with props like amphitheater steps and benches can support interactions.

While designing in cities, one is ever conscious of ensuring that all available FSI is consumed leading to tall buildings with little or no open space available at ground level. So while a courtyard at ground level is often impossible, providing courtyards at higher levels is a useful strategy that can ensure a win-win.

[Image 4, 5 and 6- A north facing, shaded and vibrant courtyard at the 4th floor of a Commercial Building at Nagpur with an amphi-theatre and overlooking public passages, staircases, projecting meeting rooms and terraces to create a design centered  around social gathering spaces and green pockets at every level.]

Three : Tiny courtyards for better social interactions and some fresh air:

Often, in the quest to consume all available FSI, it may be impossible to provide large courtyards. But even an eight feet wide tiny courtyard can become the soul of a building by bringing in day light and visually connecting different floors.

[Image 7- A tiny 8’ x 21’ atrium courtyard within a Family Home at Nagpur. The courtyard visually connects different levels of the house and is designed to create a sense of togetherness that binds a large joint family]

Four: The Staircase as a courtyard for cross ventilation and visual connectivity:

Some projects are so hemmed in from all sides that even the tiniest courtyard is impossible. But converting the staircase into a courtyard is still a possibility as we found while designing one of our favourite projects in Bangalore.

The staircase is a vertical connector that is a mandatory part of any building and organizing it, such that it visually connects different levels and becomes a conduit for sun and wind, can convert it into an urban courtyard that much like a traditional courtyard can serve as a space for social connections and welcome breaks, with minimal waste of precious floor space.

                (Images 8 and 9- The core of this ‘out of the box’ office building for Nirvana Films at Bangalore is the N-S connector staircase that slices through the building with a huge skylight above, suffusing it with sunlight and natural ventilation.

Five: Use the terraces for social interactions:

The roof terrace is a free of fsi space.  If possible, carving into the building to provide small terraces at every level can allow for each classroom to have a small attached open space. But whether at one level or at many, greening up the terrace for the children to use is such a simple possibility! It can bring an additional benefit – the joy of learning from nature!

[Images 10,11 and 12- The spaces within this Commercial office building  at Chennai are naturally lit with  coconut & mango trees visible at  every turn. There are semi green terrace spaces for internal meetings, reflection and joy.]

Six: Balconies for well ventilated social interactions:

Some cities have, very wisely, retained the possibility of cantilevered balconies and double height terraces over and above the permissible fsi allowed for the building. If one is lucky to be in such a city, needless to say, all balconies must be availed for breezy, social spaces.

The lockdown in the wake of Covid 19 has forced us to pause and reflect, and simple solutions like the ones described here and perhaps several more are available to design post-covid city schools. These simple solutions that promote better physical-emotional health and happiness align beautifully with the spirit of sustainable development. Buildings and cities that work with climate will consume less energy and lower our carbon footprint. Likewise, buildings and cities that promote social interactions will help provide an emotionally stronger social fabric through better communication and understanding, one that, hopefully, will lead to a more inclusive, fair and tolerant society. So, in promoting our own health and happiness, we can simultaneously nurture the planet and its people – the wonderful i n t e r c o n n e c t e d n e s s   of all fates! Sometimes it takes a pandemic to remind us.

Happy New Year.