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Architecture Becomes Sustainable in the Era of Climate Change by City Tech Blogger Javier Silva


My career of choice is Architecture, and nowadays buildings consume almost 40% of the energy in the U.S. annually and emit almost half of the carbon dioxide in the country through greenfield development, cement production, and the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal. As we all know Co2 is a greenhouse gas that humans have been emitting due to the burning of fossil fuels and other pollutants in big numbers since the industrial revolution started and now we are starting to see its effects on the atmosphere. Climate change is also responsible for extreme climate in some regions bringing heat waves and droughts, rising sea levels, intense storms, wildfires, floods, and other extreme conditions.

There are issues that our generation cannot change. In the past some buildings were considered death traps because of the materials they used, and design strategies. Harmful materials like lead plumbing, lead paint, asbestos, and carbon monoxide, caused illness to their inhabitants because there was no knowledge on how humans would react to being exposed to those substances. After learning how damaging those substances and construction techniques were to people, they were banned, and the same can be said about our environment as a whole by stating that scientists became aware/worried about the effects of climate change 30 years ago. The issues that the generation of new architects face today because of climate change are rising sea levels, extreme heat conditions, intense storms like hurricanes and tornadoes will occur more often and the carbon footprint that existing buildings have on the environment will need to be reduced to almost zero in order to start the change.

Architecture has been in part a contributor to climate change. As mentioned before, the construction industry can be at least 40% responsible for total of Co2 emissions in the U.S. and that comes from the production of some building materials and developing land. Though, the burning of fossil fuels and farming account for the rest. Architecture has always borrowed from different fields of technology to evolve and adapt to the environment, it just never had to deal directly with the impacts of climate change. The focus of architects these days should be on applying passive energy techniques by incorporating supportive designs and materials. An example of this would be CLT (cross laminated timber) which is being used instead of concrete and steel for structural purposes because of its sustainability and it doesn’t have secondary effects to the environment. In fact, CLT is more fire resistant that concrete or steel and trees can be abundantly grown; in their lifetime they will store Co2 from the atmosphere and store it, then it will be cut down, a new one will be planted to absorb more greenhouse gases which is basically what trees do. CLT structures are a new trend in architecture. In fact last year the city of Portland, Oregon granted the first building permit for a 12-story CLT building, normally wood buildings can’t go higher than 5 stories by code, but CLT in this case was the exception.

To summarize, the architecture industry is widely aware of the challenges that have to be overcome in order to reduce Co2 emissions. New materials are being developed that interact with the environment and have a cleansing effect. These are new forms of concrete mixtures, CLT, bamboo, recycled plastic, ferrock and timbercrete. There is still a long way to go before we get to see the first building with a zero carbon footprint in New York City or any other major city in the U.S., but the change is happening.






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