Since signing up to the Architects Declare climate manifesto in June Designscape have been investigating ways in which we can to develop our practices and procedures to meet the challenging ambitions of the commitment we have made.
Architects Declare, is an open pledge by the practices that have signed up, to join together in recognising the twin crises of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss. It is also a recognition of the paradigm shift required in the wider construction industry to tackle these imminent threats and how we, as architects, can help advocate positive change.
According to UK Green Building Council the built environment contributes around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint. Almost half of this is from energy used within buildings (heating & electricity consumption). While Designscape have always been mindful to incorporate energy efficiencies into building designs, the focus is on tackling the other major challenge of embodied carbon.
Embodied carbon is a neat way of describing the carbon emitted during the manufacture, transport and construction of building materials, along with the end of life emissions of a building including decommissioning and disposal of materials to landfill.
Also termed Whole Life Carbon, in 2016, emissions alone within the build environment were higher than the Green Construction Board’s target for built environment emissions by 2050.
According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we have 12 years in which to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels or face droughts, floods, extreme weather events and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
As the 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg told global leaders at Davos in January: ‘Our house is on fire’.
So rather than just paying lip service, Designscape understands that signing up to the Architects Declare pledge does require meaningful action. It requires us to evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown and we will be actively encouraging our clients to join us in adopting this approach.
Many of the systems and design standards we have relied upon need to be challenged. We have a lot to learn and not everything we need to know is as yet freely available. We need to share our knowledge and collaborate to find persuasive facts and arguments to fuel this process to a sustainable future. As a starting point, Designscape have implemented a programme of round table to discuss how we can begin to fulfil our commitment.
At our first, we started to review our typical approach to building and asked ourselves a number of poignant questions: ‘how confident are we in our knowledge of the efficacy of the materials we use?’; ‘what is the real carbon footprint of commonly used building materials?’; and ‘how can we obtain reliable knowledge about embodied carbon?’ We resolved to focus on our Top 10 materials.
We agreed that buildings cannot just meet carbon performance metrics and be sustainable. They need to work for their users and give delight or they will not be long lasting. The life time value of a building is important, as the shorter the lifespan of a building, the bigger its impact it has in respect of embodied carbon.
We also discussed how the design of a building may need to change if a certain aesthetic significantly compromises performance. The use of glass has long been a challenge in this respect. Not only is it at least 10 times less well performing than a typical insulated wall, glass can also create unacceptable overheating through solar gain and requires a huge amount of energy to produce. Double, or triple-glazed, units have a relatively short life expectancy (typically 20 years), however, glass allows natural light into our interior spaces and the connectedness with the outside improves our sense of wellbeing and happiness. The best answers are rarely simple.
At our most recent session we were delighted to welcome Professor and author Bill Gething – long-standing friend of the studio, highly respected sustainability expert and architectural consultant. Bill’s presentation highlighted a number of climate change facts and detailed some alarming predictions based on our existing carbon trajectory, leaving us with the thought that our need to reduce carbon emissions is just the tip of the iceberg!