Ushering in a new age of eco-friendly architecture is no easy task. The construction industry is notoriously averse to change, but the sector must adapt if it is to reduce its huge carbon footprint.
The 20th century marked the age of the concrete jungle. Reinforced concrete, on account of its strength, durability and low cost, brought about nothing short of a revolution in architecture, enabling the construction of taller structures than ever and populating our skylines with high-rises and skyscrapers. But concrete’s popularity may be waning.
The built environment currently accounts for 39 percent of global CO2 emissions. This makes the construction industry one of the least environmentally friendly in the world. Extracting raw materials, such as virgin cement, is cheap and therefore very common within the sector, but it comes with a significant environmental cost. According to a report by Chatham House, cement alone creates about eight percent of global CO2 emissions. As part of global efforts to avert a climate crisis, our cities need to evolve away from their reliance on concrete.
Major players within the construction sector are becoming increasingly aware of just how unsustainable the industry’s practices are. Property firm Grosvenor and architects Foster and Partners, for example, have committed to making its buildings zero carbon by 2030. However, the pace of change is still slow. In its 2018 Global Status Report, the UN stated that not enough is being done globally to drive major change towards sustainable construction.
In this environment where major firms too often continue to conduct business as usual, the smaller players within construction are emerging as real innovators. Inspired to lower construction’s carbon footprint, a number of researchers and architectural studios are offering a vision of the new age of eco-friendly architecture
In pursuit of innovation
Soon the skyscrapers of Toronto will welcome an unusual new neighbour. Tree Tower, standing 62 metres high, is a reimagining of the high-rise for a greener future. First proposed in 2017, Tree Tower is named so because it will be constructed from cross-laminated timber and bamboo, while its long, staggered terraces almost resemble the branches of a tree.
For Chris Precht, the visionary behind Tree Tower and founder of architectural studio Precht, lowering the carbon footprint of buildings is as essential as creating beautiful architecture. “The ‘international style’ of [the] concrete structure and glass facade uniformed our cities and killed [a] thousand years of building intelligence and local building culture,” Precht told The New Economy. “We try to create buildings that give backspace to nature on the facades and roofs and create a link between people and plants. I think the time of ‘bigger, higher, larger’ in architecture is over and we [are entering] an era of vitality and health.”
To revolutionise current practices, the public and private sectors need to work together closely. Perhaps what the industry needs most of all is a fundamental shift in mindset, moving away from minimising production costs at any expense and towards considering the long-term costs of all design decisions.
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