Green Architecture in the Age of Climate Change 

November 6, 2019

Climate change is a term that we are hearing everywhere: from the political debates to the hometown discussions at coffee shops across the country. The question is no longer, “Is it happening?” but rather, “What are we doing to avoid the catastrophic consequences?” As architects, we know that this climate crisis is the fundamental design problem of our time. 

With the change in climate comes the call to action for architects, engineers, and builders that states we must change our fundamental ideas of designing and building to become part of the climate crisis solution. Let’s take a closer look at what the problem is and how we can be a driving force in the solution. 

Understanding Climate Change

The latest climate report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) anticipates that the world will experience the more extreme effects and consequences of climate change much earlier than originally thought, all within most of the global population’s lifetime. No longer are we thinking about the consequences of climate change for our children or grandchildren’s lives, but for our own! 

The panel of scientists with the United Nations and hundreds of independent scientists around the globe attribute the temperature changes largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels. While it is true that the planet’s climate has constantly been changing over geological time, the current period of warming is occurring more rapidly than many past events. Scientists are concerned that natural fluctuations in the climate are being overtaken by rapid, human-induced warming that has serious implications for the stability of the planet’s climate. (Source: BBC News

As the world watches while hurricanes get stronger and more frequent, glaciers melt at alarming rates, and droughts cause water shortages in many countries, it has become clear that the effects of climate change are happening already. Across the globe, higher temperatures are contributing to record heat waves and droughts, rising sea levels, more intense storms, wildfires, floods, and other extreme conditions

The Role of Architects in this Crisis

Architects, engineers, and construction leaders play an important role in maximizing our efforts toward a more sustainable future. “As professionals in the AEC industry, we must first acknowledge the effect our work has on the environment and then focus on what steps can we take to mitigate those impacts,” according to Archinect online

Sustainable architecture practices are currently in a phase of rapid evolution. “Architecture 2030 cites numbers that illustrate that buildings contribute to nearly half of the nation’s CO2 emissions, so they’re a big part of the problem and, therefore, a big part of the solution. While it is true that every industry has a role to play in doing its part to reduce greenhouse gases and find sustainable solutions, architects specifically bear the brunt of the load. 

Architects and builders can be leaders in the fight against global warming by slashing energy consumption by 60-70% with the reduction of heating, cooling, and other systems within commercial and residential buildings. As Patrick Sisson states in the online article What Can Architects Do to Help Fight Climate Change?, “It’s time to move beyond the checklist approach to sustainability. There are thousands of examples of efficient buildings in Europe and North America. We get distracted by things like bamboo—and, nothing against bamboo, but we need to go further. The LEED approach to sustainability is broad and certainly adds value, but to address climate change, we need to delve deeper.” 

He goes on to encourage architects and builders to get creative when designing newer buildings to encourage efficiency and use sustainable resources. He also suggests that there’s a huge market for architects to work on renovating buildings. Retrofitting commercial and residential structures with sustainable energy sources will be one more way that the design industry can contribute to lowering the carbon emissions of buildings. What are you doing to help reduce carbon emissions and use sustainable energy and materials? Drop us a line on our Facebook page, or let us know in the comments.