UK Architects want buildings to last

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The Architect’s Climate Action Network in the UK has called for legislation to regulate embodied emissions of new buildings using ‘whole life-cycle assessment’. The network writes that “Being ‘green’ when occupied is poor compensation for construction using masses of concrete, steel and glass.” About 70% of the total emissions of a modern buildings comes from the concrete, steel and other building materials. The architects network points out that vast emission savings are available through simply legislating to encourage reuse of existing buildings and design for longevity. Most modern buildings are designed to last for only 25 to 50 years.

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In his weekly environment roundup on Pearls and Irritations on May 9th, Peter Sainsbury wrote, “A couple of months ago I highlighted the carbon emissions associated with the materials needed to keep high-rise buildings standing – turned out that over their entire life-cycle, four-storey courtyard buildings are the most energy efficient and environmentally sustainable form of housing. So claims of ‘carbon neutrality’ for skyscrapers that are covered in green walls, have triple glazed windows and use 100% renewable energy need to be viewed with some scepticism. Being ‘green’ when occupied is poor compensation for construction that involved masses of concrete, steel and glass, all of which contain lots of ‘embodied carbon emissions’ – the emissions associated with the extraction, manufacture, transport, installation, maintenance, demolition and disposal of materials. Over the life-cycles of today’s typical offices, warehouses and homes, the embodied emissions constitute around 70% of total emissions.

“Most building regulations ignore the embodied carbon and yet significant carbon reductions can be made relatively cheaply by following five simple strategies:

  • Build less: reuse existing buildings
  • Build smart: use low carbon materials
  • Build efficiently: use fewer resources and waste less
  • Build circular: design for reuse and recycle
  • Build durable: design for longevity.

“The UK’s Architects Climate Action Network is calling for legislation to regulate embodied emissions including requirements to assess, report and reduce embodied carbon using ‘whole life-cycle assessment’; limits on embodied carbon limits in building materials and building types; and Environmental Product Declarations to be made freely available on a national product database. For nations and companies that are serious about tackling climate change, the time for smoke and mirrors is long past. It’s no use a building being carbon neutral in its daily operations if its construction involved materials containing lots of embodied carbon. Commissioners, designers, builders and occupiers of buildings need to lift their game.”

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