4 ways Architects can help tackle the climate crisis

4 ways Architects can help tackle the climate crisis

The threat of climate change is one at the forefront of many of our students’ minds, with some devoting their creative practice to raising awareness of it.

Architecture, as a field, attracts people who have a vision of changing and preserving the world, often tackling ‘adult’ topics such as poverty, climate change and sustainability.

But, architecture and the built environment is a huge contributor to UK greenhouse gas emissions. 

We asked BA (Hons) Architecture student Caitlin Meier how she thinks the next generation of Architects can help fight climate change and create a ‘Fearless Future’.

BA Architecture student Caitlin Meiers' illustrated vision of a floating Great Yarmouth. Grey buildings and bridges are suspended above water, tackling the rising sea level and coastal erosion

Our buildings contribute 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

The next generation of architects have the potential to make an immense impact on this.

By looking at construction as the mode of the solution rather than the problem, we can build a cleaner world for our future generations.

Innovative Thinking

As creatives, we have the power to envision new ideas and solutions and transform the way the built environment affects our planet.

We should not be scared to think outside the box because a global crisis demands a new way of thinking.

In a recent project redesigning Great Yarmouth, my group and I found that rising sea-levels indicate the coastal town will face flooding in the future.

Our proposal is that as the town floods, it is converted to floating islands that can be manipulated and reconfigured for use as it develops.

"I feel the responsibility to limit the negative impact our built environment is having on our natural world"

BA Architecture student Caitlin Meiers' illustrated vision of a floating Great Yarmouth. Grey buildings and bridges are suspended above water, tackling the rising sea level and coastal erosion

Learn from Nature

Does CO2 have to be negative? To nature, CO2 is a building block which constructs things like trees, algae, and coral for example. Coral takes in minerals and CO2 and then secretes calcium carbonate to build its hard exoskeleton.

Researchers at Stanford University have used this recipe to make cement. While around a ton of traditional cement produces about a ton of CO2, a ton of this cement sequesters half a ton of CO2! (1) 

Once we build, how can our buildings consume less energy? Mick Pearce’s Eastgate building employs passive systems for climate control based on termites.

The thermal mass of the building stores the heat during the day and releases it during the night, using 35% less energy than other buildings in the same city. (2)

Turning to nature for architectural design is known as ‘biomimicry’. In a TEDTalk, Michael Pawlyn provides a great explanation; ‘You could look at nature as being like a catalogue of products, and all of those have benefited from a 3.8-bilion-year research and development period.’ 

Projection maps designed by BA Architecture student Caitlin Meier, showing design for the future rather than the present

Using Biodegradable Materials

Architects often do not consider what happens at the end of a buildings use – the demolition. A study by Cardiff University found that each year in the UK 70-105 million tonnes of waste are created from demolishing buildings and only 20% of that is biodegradable. (3)

An example of a biodegradable material is mycelium which is the vegetative part of a fungus made of interwoven fibres which make it incredibly strong and naturally absorbs pollutants. This material will decompose after it is used and therefore returned to the carbon cycle.

Other biodegradable materials are cork; which can regrow in just ten years, and bamboo; which can grow four feet a day and is two or three times stronger than steel. (4)

Aim for Passive House Standard

Passive House is a standard for energy efficiency. The key features are excellent levels of thermal comfort, low energy demands, provision of fresh air, high levels of insulation, airtight design, and low energy costs.

By designing buildings to this standard, we are preparing architecture for the future climate change and reduces energy demand by up to 90%. (5)

As a hopeful future architect, I feel the responsibility to limit the negative impact our built environment is having on our natural world and believe putting environmental impact consideration at the centre of design could save our planet.

Sources: (1) Meinhold, 2011; (2) McKeag, 2009; (3) Sassi, 2006; (4) Thorns, 2018; (5) Brinkley and Pullen, 2020