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An Architect’s Responsibility to Help Save Us by City Tech Blogger Derrick Seegars

My childhood dream was to become an architect because I was always fascinated by skyscrapers from the early age of 5 when my father took me to the Empire State Building. Little did I know that by trying to fulfill this dream, I could also be instrumental in helping to save the planet. Many people would not realize how being an Architecture major would be related to climate change, but I personally believe, in this field in particular, it is heavily affected by climate change and also contributes significantly to it as well. In order to examine this, we need to look at what the role of an architect is and how that role is crucial to understanding how we can help save our planet.

As an architect or an engineer, our primary role is the designing of buildings, infrastructures, bridges, roads and other structures that we use to live, work, and transport on a daily basis. We have a responsibility to make sure that the systems we build are safe and functional but only until recently have architects started considering how those structures affect the environment. We now also must ensure the things that we create are efficient, green, sustainable, and not contributing to climate change in a destructive way. In order to ensure this, we have to look at various ways we can build better, and one of those ways is changing the source materials that we use to build our structures.

One of the most harmful materials to the atmosphere is concrete, specifically the curing (hardening) process of this material. Reinforced concrete is the most abundant source material used in building structures today across the world, and the carbon dioxide gases released during the curing process is responsible for about 8% of all global emissions. Concrete and cement are also responsible for damaging topsoil, causing soil erosion and water pollution due to surface runoff and the main contributor to ‘Heat Island Effect’ which warms our cities due to the lack of vegetation in densely populated cities to naturally cool the area. There is a huge worldwide economy and high demand for the production of reinforced concrete because it has low maintenance cost due to its long lifespan. If you can perfect the curing process of concrete, it is an extremely versatile material and can be used in various shapes, forms and sizes that are perfect for any architect’s needs.  However, architects need to start thinking about alternative methods, processes, and materials to limit the use of concrete. In some countries, using other natural resources such as bamboo is a great solution as a source of renewable material. Bamboo is a natural resource that is extremely strong, the fastest growing plant in the world, and much more resilient than concrete. It is an abundant material that grows naturally in Asia, where some of the densest population centers in the world are located and as a bonus it resists lateral forces such as earthquakes due to its high flexibility. Another method of development that can be incorporated is the use of ‘vertical forests’. A newer measure in high-rise construction building that takes on the challenge of fighting air pollution. Using thousands of trees and shrubs to absorb pollution within cities, using plants, flowers, and trees on the facades of buildings can have profound effects on improving the quality of life within the cities. Two towers in Milan built-in 2014, known as the Vertical Forests, have incorporated this method and have helped reduce carbon emissions and dust particles in the air, keep the building cool, which reduces the energy cost, and cooling the city as a whole.

There are many other emerging technologies and construction techniques that can help provide green spaces and buildings in order to combat climate change, reduce greenhouse emissions, and use renewable resources in construction right now and in the near future to improve the quality of life on the planet. We must harness these and other natural resources and alternative construction building methods to continue to strive for renewable sources for construction development and to ensure that our buildings achieve LEED Certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design designation). The ability to sustain our planet’s population growth while doing it responsibly and efficiently will be one of our biggest challenges in the 21st century, but one I think we can achieve, with cooperation and accountability from all nations on this planet.

Over the summer, I was selected to be a part of the EPP/MSI National NOAA Scholarship/Internship where I conducted research on atmospheric data using NASA’s GOES-R Satellite. I was able to study data using their AWIPS computer systems to analyze different atmospheric conditions and readings. I produced a project that helped analyze ice floes and breakage on The Great Lakes to try to help provide better warning systems and forecasts for the region. I believe that architects need to be more involved and aware of the changing climate, ecosystems, and nature to better incorporate techniques to mitigate climate issues caused by our structures. We are at a point in history where everyone needs to do their part to help get involved in mitigating climate change. We have to work together and unite different abilities and expertise in order to provide a better quality of life to millions of people around the world.

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2 Responses

  1. I’ve liked architecture too, although I don’t study it. In fact, being an architect was my second career option. I did not know that just hardening the concrete of structures, could do so much damage to the planet and is 8% of the emissions. I believe that in the future, the way cities develop will take into account the environment. The thing that I like the most about architecture is the evolution of the infrastructure over time. As you said, there are already doing eco-friendly buildings in many cities like your example, in Milan. Some time ago I visited the city of Macao in China, and there are also designing environmentally friendly buildings, where the roofs and balconies have green areas and solar panels. However, for developing cities concrete is used a lot. I don’t know if it is a big cost for the government, or they don’t have a lot of information about developing a green city. I grew up in Cali, one of the most important cities in Colombia, and most of the buildings are made of concrete and most of them do not take into account the environment. There are even structures built on important natural lands which are then damaged, such as wetlands and/or natural parks. This is driven by corruption or companies seeking natural resources. And the green projects in my city aren’t considered a priority. I believe that the government should promote infrastructure plans that are friendly to the environment.

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