Page E3.2 . 08 February 2006                     
ArchitectureWeek - Environment Department
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    Design to Survive

    continued

    At 3 degrees, C. (5.4 degrees F.), the effects are projected to be still more catastrophic. We can only imagine the socioeconomic and political consequences.

    If we continue on our present course of burning fossil fuels, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that we could reach 2 degrees C. by 2050 and 3 degrees by 2070. We are currently at 0.7 degrees C. global warming above preindustrial levels, and we are witnessing a rash of extreme weather events attributable to this rise in temperature. We are running out of time.

    Climate scientists estimate that it will take a 60 to 80 percent reduction in current global warming-causing emissions by 2050 if we are to stay under the 2-degree threshold.

    What is Architecture's Role?

    The building sector is responsible for half of all U.S. global warming emissions annually, and these emissions are increasing at an alarming rate, according to statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It is time for us to lead the race to prevent dangerous climate change.

    Large reductions will also be necessary in the transportation and industrial sectors, and each is making progress. The building sector, however, is the least understood, and its emissions are projected to increase dramatically as we continue to add 5 billion square feet (460 million square meters) of construction to our existing stock each year.

    Even with all the talk these days about sustainability, U.S. energy consumption per unit area of building (including existing) is actually increasing each year. To complicate matters, developing countries are emulating the United States in their rush to build their infrastructure.

    With oil and natural gas resources relatively limited, coal use is increasing in some regions. The building sector, the major greenhouse gas-emitting sector, is poised to fuel the world's rush toward climate change with coal. Clean coal technology is expensive and decades away from full implementation, as is CO2 sequestering and disposal.

    Furthermore, the United States alone is projected to add 22 million fossil-fuel burning mini-power plants in buildings over the next 20 years. This is because the new buildings we construct each year not only consume electricity produced at a central power plant, but they also directly burn oil, natural gas, and/or propane in boilers, furnaces, and hot water heaters. In fact, 58 percent of the site-use energy consumed in a building is burned at the site.

    The most ambitious programs of electricity generation from renewable sources solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal put forth by environmental groups would supply only a fraction of the projected U.S. and global demand. The entire global building sector must be turned around, sooner rather than later, or it will have such inertia that we may as well just throw up our hands and live with the consequences.

    What Can Architects Do?

    To meet our responsibility in keeping global warming under 2 degrees C., we in the building industry must adopt the following targets:

    All new buildings, developments, and major renovation projects should be sited and designed to use one half the fossil fuel energy they would consume following conventional practice.

    This fossil fuel reduction standard for all new buildings should be increased to 60 percent in 2010, 70 percent in 2015, 80 percent in 2020, and 90 percent in 2025. By 2030 all new buildings should be carbon-neutral, meaning they will use no fossil fuel energy to operate.

    We must work together to change existing building standards and codes to reflect these targets.

    What Can Educators Do?

    To support this effort, our professional architecture and planning schools should require a mandatory, full-year, innovative, studio-integrated program that promotes creative problem-solving relevant to climate change. The curriculum should instill in students a deep understanding of the relationship between nature and design.

    Because it will take time to implement such a program, all design studio instructors should, in the interim, require that their students "engage the environment in a way that dramatically reduces or eliminates the need for fossil fuels."

    Our Unique Power

    American architects and designers are responsible for directing the purchase of over one trillion dollars worth of goods and services annually. By specifying innovative, low-embodied-energy materials, technologies, and processes, we can effect major reductions in the emissions produced by the manufacture of building products and the construction of buildings and infrastructure.

    If we combine this purchasing power with that of our colleagues in the rest of the world, we can generate dramatic reductions in the industrial sector as well.

    Never before has the earth been so threatened, and never before has the architecture, planning, and building community been challenged to lead the world in a new direction, to help avert large-scale dislocations, and to set the tone for global cooperation. Do we seize this opportunity or do we let it slip by? I can tell you that if our community does not accept this challenge now, no one will do it for us.

    Today, we are called upon to lead in the race against human-induced climate change. As architects, designers, and planners, we strive to pursue and reflect humanity's most noble aspirations. Let us accept this challenge and make this our profession's finest hour.

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Edward Mazria AIA, is a senior principal at Mazria Odems Dzurec, an architecture and planning firm in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is author of The Passive Solar Energy Book, senior analyst for the Southwest Climate Council, and adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico. He speaks nationally and internationally on the subject of climate change and architecture. More information is available at Architecture 2030.

     

    AW

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