Global warming is serious problem affecting our planet, if continually ignored, climate change, air quality, the environment, and over all quality of life of mankind is at serious risk. As Architects what measures can we take to prevent and adjust to a changing world? Even though it is very difficult to reverse all the damage done by global warming and get cooperation by all industries and fields, I believe it is an Architect’s job to lead and be the change we so desperately need.
The purpose of this research report is to bring awareness not only to global warming but also look into the importance of Architecture, to combat global warming. I believe Architecture is the key to changing future infrastructure that leaves no building footprint and works with environment not against it.
My report will address questions of what global warming is and its causes and effects. Also I will begin to address the role Architects play in regard to this changing environment. I provide key components Architects keep in mind in their design decisions, like skin and site placement, and give building precedents that display progressive green design.
In order for anyone to deal with crisis of global warming, we must understand what it is and how it came to be. According to the United Nations Panel on Climate Change, “climate change or global warming intensifies the greenhouse effect, a natural process that keeps the Earth’s climate in an agreeable range for life.”Located in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, and other gases constantly absorb heat and reflect it back to the Earth’s surface. These greenhouse gases keep our planet’s temperature fairly warm and habitable for us to live.
The greenhouse effect is a very important and vital part of the Earth’s ecosystem and balance but from the beginning of the industrial age, humans have increased the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide due to combustions of fossil fuels. “The extraction of coal, oil, and natural gas to generate electricity, to provide fuel for transportation, and drive our manufacturing processes, results in carbon dioxide emissions.”
Role of Architects:
Architects potentially play a huge role in reducing the rate of global warming and have an immense impact on how we run our society, our infrastructure, and our industry. In essence, they play a major role and can tremendously contribute to how we can deal and overcome the environmental crisis we are in. “The practice of architecture exercises a significant influence on the physical environment in which we live. This is true not only for buildings that architects design but also of the effect their decisions have on the natural environment.”
Architects must realize that “a building requires energy for operation, for demolition…from the productions of a steal beam to delivering it in a fuel consuming truck, finally to raising it into place with a fuel consuming crane.”4 All these operations should not be taken for granted; architects must use our precious non renewable resources wisely, by designing energy conscious and sustainable buildings. Although it is not the architect’s main job to save energy, it is important for the architect to use energy carefully and ensure a suitable habitat for future generations. A building must be able to sustain itself through an energy crisis, working with the environment not against it. Now that sustainability and green architecture has come to forefront by leaders like Al Gore and Barack Obama, it is imperative for architects to take initiative.
Architecture Energy Consumption and Building Operations:
Before the 1970’s the United States was forced to re-evaluate energy production and consumption, Architects had no care about the relationship between energy use and buildings. For example the skin of a building was thought of as a two dimensional object, that just defined the edge between the inside and outside of a building.Now this attitude toward architecture is changing, when one realizes the impact architecture has on energy consumption. Between thirty to thirty six percent of natural energy consumption goes to building operations.
Some examples of these building operations include air conditioning, lighting, fans, motors and domestic hot water. By the mid 1980’s Architects reduced building operations by fifteen percent less than the previous decade, due to an awareness of building construction and use of materials.4 An example of such advancement is the raised insulation standards and many HVAC and lighting systems that are inefficient have been removed. These movements toward green architecture and meeting of LEED standards are very important steps Architects can take to change the way we building our infrastructure.
Key Architecture Strategies and Components regarding the environment:
The building must be “responsive” 4 to the elements, the environment and the building must be able to coexist with in a neutral balance. Architects must build site specifically, taking the orientation of a building regarding solar angles and prevailing winds into account. For example the Centre International Rogier Project located in Brussels is a great example of a tower block being site specific and site favorable. The renovated features include ventilated cavity windows, operable windows, energy generated wind turbines, favorable sun orientation for wind turbines and solar panels.
The use of natural forces can reduce energy costs and work with environment rather than against it. The design of a building to change with its environment is very important, for example a building with a “dynamic” 4 skin is very vital, the use of a “shutters, awnings, shading systems, or light sensitive glass”4 can help lower energy cost, while giving the infrastructure a sense of self sustainability and an eco-friendly outlook. These small measures can make a huge difference in energy conservation; alleviating our dependence on heat engines, as well as reducing emissions of greenhouse gases into the environment. If this trend in green architecture continues, in the future we may have buildings that generate their own clean and renewable energy and have enough left over to help out other urban areas.
Lastly I would like to give some examples of sustainable architecture that work and where the architects took initiative in creating new innovative design ideas to help alleviate enhanced global warming. The Ventiform research project, designed by Foster and Partners although never built is a great example of new thinking with in their field. The high-rise building uses an aerodynamic form, which “enhances the energy generating capabilities of the wind turbine located at the top of the building and the building self sufficiency.”The high-rise structure’s wind turbine not only generates clean, renewable energy but also can power 1500 suburban homes, an incredible design proposal.
As the world finally comes to terms with global warming and how the planet is being affected by the human footprint, we realize what an important role Architects play in helping slow down global warming. Architecture is a vital tool not only for expressing art through forms, but also it is a way to help sustain and better our environment.
- Dumaine, Brian. Plot to Save the Planet: How Visionary Entrepreneurs and Corporate Titans are Creating Real Solutions to Global Warming. New York: Crown Business, 2008.
- Gissen, David. Big and Green: Toward Sustainable Architecture in the 21st Century. New York: Princeton Architectural P, 2003.
- Stein, Carl. Advp -1 : Energy-Conscious Architecture. Washington D.C.: National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, 1993.
- Langwith, Jacqueline. Renewable Energy. New York: Greenhaven P, Incorporated, 2008.
- Tennesen, Michael. Global Warming. New York: Alpha Books, 2008.