When we talk about reducing our collective co2 emissions, we spend a lot of time talking about transport – the evils of flying and 4x4s, the benefits of hybrid cars, cycling, and so on.
You might hear about changing your lightbulbs, but only rarely does architecture itself get a mention. This is a massive oversight. In the US, buildings account for 48% of energy use. That’s the running of buildings – lights, heating and cooling, hot water systems and so on.
The problem with buildings is that they don’t change. It is estimated that the transport industry in the US replaces itself every 12 years – so in 12 years time, hybrids and electric cars may have largely replaced the ones we have now. Not so with buildings. They’re built for the long haul.
“Every time we design a building,” says architect Ed Mazria, “we set up its energy consumption pattern and its greenhouse gas emissions pattern for the next 50-100 years. That’s why the building sector and the architecture sector is so critical.”
Sustainably architecture is something we need to talk about a lot more. How can we design our buildings to use less energy? Solar power is one thing, but houses can be heated through sunlight, can make the most of natural daylight and natural ventilation. The techniques already exist, they just need to be adopted as soon as possible.
For a great recent example, Howe Dell school opened just last week in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, and has some remarkable features. The roof catches rainwater, and water is heated through solar power. The dining room has a bamboo floor, and recycled materials are used through-out. Most impressively, the school is the first building in the world to feature a new process called Interseasonal Heat Transfer. A network of pipes draws heat from under the playground as it heats up in the sun, and this heat is stored and released in cooler weather. See hertsdirect.org for more on the school.
For more on sustainable architecture, see the non-profit architectural agency Architecture 2030, and one of my favourite sites, inhabitat, whose interview I’m quoting from above.