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

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

“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.

Architecture "lagging behind all other sectors" in climate change fight
Yamina Saheb portrait
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.

Architecture "lagging behind all other sectors" in climate change fight
Casa Flores by Fuster + Architects
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.


‘Smarter’ Cities Can Mitigate Climate Change

‘Smarter’ Cities Can Mitigate Climate Change

Per 2 imminent academics of Yale School of the Environment, who say that ‘Smarter’ Cities Can Mitigate Climate Change.

Latest IPCC Report Highlights How ‘Smarter’ Cities Can Mitigate Climate Change

‘Smarter’ Cities Can Mitigate Climate Change
Dar es Salaam
Dar es Salam

Providing some hope in the push for climate action, the IPCC report’s chapter on urban mitigation, led by Yale School of the Environment Professor Karen Seto, outlines how cities have an opportunity to increase resource efficiency and significantly reduce GHG emissions through smarter design and greener infrastructure.

The second portion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 6th Assessment report released last month painted the starkest picture yet of our rapidly changing climate and the ever-increasing threats posed to people and ecosystems if urgent action is not taken

Yet, the third part of the IPCC report, released April 4, provides some hope in the push for climate action, focusing on progress in climate mitigation, equity and justice, and urban mitigation.

Karen C. Seto
Karen C. SetoFrederick C. Hixon Professor of Geography and Urbanization Science

“The exciting message with cities is that it’s not too late to do something,” says Karen Seto, Frederick C. Hixon Professor of Geography and Urbanization Science at YSE and one of two coordinating authors of the urban mitigation chapter of the report. “We’re going to be adding 2.5 billion more people to urban areas by 2050 — and a lot of those cities have not been built yet. The world is adding a new city of 1 million every 10 days, the pace of development is very high, but there’s still a lot that can be done.”

While the last climate report published in 2014 investigated how the spatial aspects of cities can mitigate global warming and greenhouse gas emissions, Seto says this report focused on a systems approach to designing and building cities and how cities affect regions beyond urban areas. She added that this report looked not only at existing cities, but looked more closely at smaller cities and towns, as well as new and rapidly growing cities. 

This broader look toward the future, Seto says, shows “there is a lot of future emissions we can actually avoid if we design, build and operate our cities differently.”

The report states that the global share of emissions from urban areas increased between 5% to 10% between 2015 and 2020. That concentration of people and activity, however, presents an opportunity to increase resource efficiency and significantly reduce GHG emissions through better design and greener infrastructure — centered around people — that would result in beneficial cascading effects across numerous supply chains and sectors, particularly energy.

“There are a number of strategies that could be deployed that change our demand for energy, but we need to have an enabling policy environment and to rethink how we design and build infrastructure,” Seto says.

Narasimha Rao
Narasimha RaoAssociate Professor of Energy Systems

Another positive takeaway, Seto says, is that cities are “much nimbler” than national governments in responding to climate change. City leaders not only oversee smaller land areas and have smaller constituencies to whom they respond, she explains, but they are more likely to experience and understand the climate challenges that cities face.

For the first time, this IPCC report also highlighted “demand side management,” or the drivers of consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. More specifically, the report touched on strategies that can enable and encourage consumers to modify their electricity usage in an effort to lower demand. These interventions, the report states, can potentially reduce energy demand by supporting the shift to more energy efficient modes of transportation; projections show that limiting warming to the 1.5 degrees Celsius benchmark would drop transport-related emissions by roughly 60 %.

Narasimha Rao, associate professor of energy systems at YSE and a contributing author on the demand side chapter, focused specifically on basic well-being and its relation to climate mitigation. It’s critical, Rao says, to understand the evolving synergies between these two fundamental goals.

“The big finding in this chapter is that improving living standards in an effort to eradicate poverty does not pose a significant challenge to climate mitigation,” says Rao, whose research examines the relationship between energy systems, human development, and climate change. He also explained that scenario analyses within the report show demand-side measures aimed at climate mitigation can reduce energy demand while not compromising living standards.

With urban populations on the rise, Rao sees several ways that demand-side management can be integrated to reduce energy demand — including improvements in public transportation, residential construction, and smart technologies — but few large-scale efforts have been attempted to date. In fact, Rao says, current urban patterns “are not promising.” Concentrated wealth within cities creates more consumption and more emissions, and migration from rural to urban areas is creating further inequities in access to energy services.

“More work needs to be done to investigate how cities are going to move forward, particularly in the global South where we’re seeing considerable urban growth,” he says. “Sustainable development, like greening urban areas, improving public transportation, making energy services more accessible — they can all have benefits for well-being and for the climate.”

Future cities could be 3D printed

Future cities could be 3D printed

Future cities could be 3D printed – using concrete made with recycled glass

By Seyed Ghaffar, Brunel University London; Mehdi Chougan, Brunel University London, and Pawel Sikora

The featured image above is credit to Matjazz/Shutterstock

3D printed concrete may lead to a shift in architecture and construction. Because it can be used to produce new shapes and forms that current technologies struggle with, it may change the centuries-old processes and procedures that are still used to construct buildings, resulting in lower costs and saved time.

However, concrete has a significant environmental impact. Vast quantities of natural sand are currently used to meet the world’s insatiable appetite for concrete, at great cost to the environment. In general, the construction industry struggles with sustainability. It creates around 35% of all landfill waste globally.

Our new research suggests a way to curb this impact. We have trialled using recycled glass as a component of concrete for 3D printing.

Concrete is made of a mix of cement, water, and aggregates such as sand. We trialled replacing up to 100% of the aggregate in the mix with glass. Simply put, glass is produced from sand, is easy to recycle, and can be used to make concrete without any complex processing.

Demand from the construction industry could also help ensure glass is recycled. In 2018 in the US only a quarter of glass was recycled, with more than half going to landfill.

Building better

We used brown soda-lime beverage glass obtained from a local recycling company. The glass bottles were first crushed using a crushing machine and then the crushed pieces were washed, dried, milled, and sieved. The resulting particles were smaller than a millimetre square.

The crushed glass was then used to make concrete in the same way that sand would be. We used this concrete to 3D print wall elements and prefabricated building blocks that could be fitted together to make a whole building.

Grey concrete structure
A building envelope prefabricated using the 3D printing process. Mehdi Chougan, Author provided

If used in this way, waste glass can find a new life as part of a construction material.

The presence of glass does not only solve the problem of waste but also contributes to the development of a concrete with superior properties than that containing natural sand.

The thermal conductivity of soda-lime glass – the most common type of glass, which you find in windows and bottles – is more than three times lower than that of quartz aggregate, which is used extensively in concrete. This means that concrete containing recycled glass has better insulation properties. They could substantially decrease the costs required for cooling or heating during summer or winter.

Improving sustainability

We also made other changes to the concrete mixture in order to make it more sustainable as a building material, including replacing some of the Portland cement with limestone powder.

Portland cement is a key component of concrete, used to bind the other ingredients together into a mix that will harden. However, the production of ordinary Portland cement leads to the release of significant amounts of carbon dioxide as well as other greenhouse gases. The cement production industry accounts for around 8% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the environment.

Limestone is less hazardous and has less environmental impact during the its production process than Portland cement. It can be used instead of ordinary Portland cement in concrete for 3D printing without a reduction in the quality of the printing mixture.

3D printed layers of a wall element. Mehdi Chougan, Author provided

We also added lightweight fillers, made from tiny hollow thermoplastic spheres, to reduce the density of the concrete. This changed the thermal conductivity of the concrete, reducing it by up to 40% when compared with other concrete used for 3D printing. This further improved the insulation properties of the concrete, and reduced the amount of raw material required.

Using 3D printing technology, we can simply develop a wall structure on a computer, convert it to simple code and send it to a 3D printer to be constructed. 3D printers can operate for 24 hours a day, decrease the amount of waste produced, as well as increase the safety of construction workers.

Our research shows that an ultra-lightweight, well insulated 3D building is possible – something that could be a vital step on our mission towards net zero.

Seyed Ghaffar, Associate Professor in Civil Engineering and Environmental Materials, Brunel University London; Mehdi Chougan, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow, Brunel University London, and Pawel Sikora, Associate professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, West Pomeranian University of Technology in Szczecin

Read the original article.


Building a New Urban Identity of Kuwait City

Building a New Urban Identity of Kuwait City

There is a disconnect between Kuwait City’s history and the current spatial reality, but moving forward, the city can reshape itself to better mirror the identity of its people. Here is the story as per the AGSIW of 22 February 2022.

Building a New Urban Identity: Revitalizing Kuwait City

By Mariam AlSaad,

Kuwait City was ahead of other cities in the region in its urban modernization and the growth of its built environment. However, it is now not only racing to catch up with more rapidly modernizing cities, such as Dubai and Riyadh, but is at risk of being left behind.

The city has much potential still unfulfilled, with a plethora of obsolete buildings, unmaintained and decaying structures, and unwelcoming urban spaces. The city’s current state has been shaped by socioeconomic and political factors under the influence of what historians of urban development refer to as post-colonial urbanism. This influence has caused a confusion in the city’s architectural and urban identity. This confusion in identity, in turn, has impacted the city’s development and spatial reality, which has implications for the modern urban experience and longer-term sustainability.

Colonialism in Urban Development

Kuwait was never a colony, though it was a British protectorate from 1899-1961. The British exercised outsized influence and some colonialist accents seeped into Kuwait’s urban development. Kuwait City, in its modern phase, was established after the discovery of oil in the country in 1938, when Kuwaiti officials wanted the urban landscape to reflect the country’s new economic status. The British, along with local merchants and officials, strongly advocated for the demolition of Kuwait’s Old Town in favor of a new Kuwait City.

The native architectural and urban identity of Kuwait’s Old Town was shaped by then-dominant cultural, economic, and environmental conditions. This legacy landscape was then completely repurposed, and a new spatial reality was created, permanently altering the way of life of the Kuwaiti community. The spaces that once served as residential neighborhoods, communal gathering spots, vibrant marketplaces, and political diwaniyas turned into construction sites and were repurposed to fit the new narrative: the modern Arab city.

This globalization and disruption of the spatial heterogeneousness of the Old Town catapulted a small port town into a business metropolis irrespective of its previously diverse and rich cultural identity, all in the name of the Western concept of modernization and progress.

The new city was built rapidly and densely to showcase itself as bold and independent, a version of the “Pearl of the Gulf” emerging, though it never did truly emerge in the eyes of some experts, such as Saba Shiber, an urban planner who worked at the Ministry of Public Works during the process. In reaction to what he viewed as flawed but damaging aspirations, he warned against rapid urban development, fearing it would end up sacrificing the charm of the Old Town and create urban anarchy in its place. He stated that, “Never in the history of mankind has a more costly, more anti-organic urban complex been created with such speed. We try to escape the blazing fires of engineering and architecture, but they are so many and so possessed with momentum, they keep rearing their ugly heads everywhere.” By June 1960, Shiber felt things had gotten so bad that, in his view, “certain urban suicide was at least incipient in the old city.”

When examining Kuwait City now, there is a disconnect between its history and the current spatial reality. There is little to no cultural or historical significance associated with the city’s urban spaces and buildings, having been designed for the most part by foreign architects and urban planners who had little understanding of the local sociocultural context. While this may not be an issue in terms of functionality, it is an issue in terms of identity – urban morphology, the study of urban form, has identified a complicated but powerful relationship between cultural identity and the built environment. For these experts, a city that is designed by those who view it from the outside in, experiencing it while being detached from it, will end up privileging mono-functional urban spaces that are devoid of the true spirit of a city: its people. Asseel Al-Ragam, an associate professor at the College of Architecture at Kuwait University, explained that this disconnect was because, to these foreign designers, Kuwait City was a testing grounds, an experiment in architecture and urban planning, and an opportunity to create a new urban experience.

The Sour Legacy of Urban Planning

Kuwaitis who were born in the 1990s or early 2000s have no collective memories associated with Kuwait City’s commercial buildings. Many have little sentimental attachment to the city. Young Kuwaitis who live in outlying areas tend not to visit it often due to a lack of accessible and efficient public transportation. There is also little incentive to visit the city, because there are limited tourist attractions and leisure activities. The activities that are available are not equally accessible and affordable for all members of society.

Previous generations of Kuwaitis share some fond memories of popular recreational destinations of the 1980s and ‘90s, such as the shopping center Al-Muthanna Complex. Many of these buildings have become obsolete or abandoned, like Al-Muthanna Complex, and some demolished like Al-Sawaber Complex. Regardless of the hold such memories exert, it is unsustainable to rely on nostalgia alone to provide purpose and meaning to architecture and urban space.

Building a New Urban Identity: Revitalizing Kuwait City
Old Kuwaiti buildings
(Credit: Mariam AlSaad)

Regarding deficiencies, the city lacks spaces that offer scenic views, provoke a deep sense of community, or connect people to their heritage and each other. Instead, a common sight in Kuwait City is empty land plots – some have been repurposed as parking lots and others have become unsightly pits for waste and debris. Another element the city lacks is green spaces and vegetation; this affects both the aesthetic appeal of the city and its sustainability. The city’s barren brown landscape and impermeable infrastructure make it inhospitable and very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

There are some exceptions, such Souq Al-Mubarakiya, one of the oldest souqs in Kuwait, which was left undisturbed by development plans. Also, a project that sparks hope is Al-Shaheed Park, which was built in 2015. It is the largest urban park in Kuwait, and it provides a green space for people to exercise, connect with nature, and learn about historical events. It serves as a good example of an urban space that aims to honor the past (the park name is an ode to the martyrs of Kuwait) and provide a biodiverse and walkable space for new generations. Another positive phenomenon is the refurbishment of spaces in Kuwait City by small businesses, such as cafes, restaurants, and co-working spaces, owned by young Kuwaitis. This improves urban vibrancy and social connectivity and gives the local population a chance to reclaim the city.

Building a New Urban Identity: Revitalizing Kuwait City
Repurposed empty plot lands
Building a New Urban Identity: Revitalizing Kuwait City
Repurposed empty plot lands
Repurposed empty plot lands (Credit: Mariam AlSaad)
A City for the Next Generation

Ragam has argued that, “The historical layers of a city should co-exist together, to be read by different generations.” However, when there is little to read into, there is little that binds residents together. Experts question whether Kuwait City’s current trajectory, on a path without a sense of history, is sustainable, in social, economic, and environmental terms. It also prompts the question of how the city – in terms of a shared sense of heritage – is going to be “passed on” to the next generation.

The French philosopher Henri Lefebvre in his 1968 book “The Right to the City” observed that it is often the very people who live and labor in the city who are excluded from shaping it. In the case of Kuwait City, there is an argument to be made that, in Lefebvre’s terms, that “right” to the city was taken from the people of the Old Town and handed over to foreign designers and architects. Bader Bosakher, a senior architect in the Ministry of Public Works’ Department of Architecture, explained that most buildings in Kuwait commissioned by the Ministry of Public Works have been passed on to local design firms. These firms are staffed primarily by foreign designers and the buildings are designed with the aim of pleasing the end user or stakeholder; consideration of local architectural identity is not generally prioritized. Therefore, the architecture and design of urban spaces in Kuwait City continue to neglect local social, environmental, and cultural needs.

Building a New Urban Identity: Revitalizing Kuwait City
Urban spaces are not pedestrian friendly or welcoming
Building a New Urban Identity: Revitalizing Kuwait City
Urban spaces are not pedestrian friendly or welcoming
Urban spaces that are not pedestrian friendly or welcoming (Credit: Mariam AlSaad)
Preservation and Sustainable Planning

For people to be able to connect with Kuwait City, and find meaning where architecture and urban space has failed to provide it, a new context and meaning need to be created, through repurposing and sustainable planning. Preservation rather than demolition of the current architecture is a more viable option both economically and environmentally. Repurposing Kuwait City’s neglected buildings and retrofitting them could help revitalize the city. It could also incentivize investment and reduce demolition and the carbon emissions that result from new construction. 

Kuwait, with its complex sociopolitical landscape, has a young population that embraces change, while it is also eager for tradition, in the form of a resurgence of the “Pearl of the Gulf.” The expertise of young Kuwaiti architects and urban planners can be enlisted to ensure that the city is continuously being developed and reshaped to accommodate the everchanging sociocultural landscape. One way to encourage this process is for government agencies that play a role in municipal development or architecture in Kuwait City to incorporate smart and sustainable urban planning, prioritizing people and considering social and environmental conditions. Moving forward, Kuwait City has the opportunity to reshape itself to better mirror the identity of its people, to prove that, as the architect and academic Roberto Fabbri put it, the “original sin” of demolishing the Old Town never needed to be committed. It isn’t necessary to erase the past to make room for the future – a sustainable future is built through preserving the present and improving upon it.

The state of construction projects in the MENA

The state of construction projects in the MENA

New figures from GlobalData shed light on the state of construction projects in the Middle East and North Africa and around the world. Here they are as per Investment Monitor.

The state of construction projects in the Middle East and North Africa

By Ben van der Merwe

New figures from GlobalData show that the construction sector in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is healthier than in most other regions and is continuing to improve.

The MENA region has received an overall score of 0.87 in GlobalData’s January 2022 Construction Project Momentum Index, which provides an assessment of the health of the construction project pipeline at all stages of development from announcement through to completion.

Every construction project in GlobalData’s database is assigned a score of between 5 and -5 based on its current progress, a score that is continually updated over time. These are then weighted by the value of each project in order to arrive at overall scores for countries, regions and sectors.

That score puts the MENA region in third place out of 11 regions, and is an increase on its score from December 2021 (0.62) when it ranked in seventh place.

One reason for the region’s relatively good performance in the index is its energy and utilities sector, which scores 1.21, putting it in first place out of 11 regions worldwide.

The MENA region’s institutional sector, by contrast, has performed somewhat worse, with a score of 0.48 (putting it in ninth place globally).

Within the MENA region, construction projects are proceeding with fewest obstacles in Qatar, which scores 2.15 in the index. The situation in Oman, however, is somewhat less positive, with a score of -0.02.

The improving health of the construction pipeline in the MENA region is partly due to the resolution of issues in the region’s energy and utilities sector, which has seen its score in GlobalData’s Construction Project Momentum Index move from 0.51 in December 2021 to 1.21 in January 2022.

The construction sector is also seeing fewer and fewer problems in Qatar, which has seen its score on the index go from 1.07 in December 2021 to 2.15 in January 2022.

The Construction Project Momentum Index

GlobalData’s Construction Project Momentum Index is based on analysis of thousands of individual construction projects around the world.

Each project is continually monitored for updates, with updates indicating progress increasing the project’s score, while updates indicating delays or cancellations reduce the score. The score always sits between 5, the best possible score, and -5, the worst.

The scores for individual projects are then weighted based on their significance in order to create combined indices for each region or sector.

Events that can reduce a project’s score include the project being cancelled or put on hold, delays, the rejection of applications or tender bids, or the reduction of the project’s scope.

Events that can increase a project’s score in the index, by contrast, include the completion or commencement of construction, the awarding of major contracts, or the approval of applications.

Ben van der Merwe is a data journalist at GlobalData Media, specialising in FDI. He joined from the Reach Data Unit, where he was a fellow of the Google News Initiative. His investigative journalism has previously appeared in the Observer, VICE, Private Eye and New Statesman.

The top featured image is for illustration and is credit to InvestorMonitor

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