A Carbon-Neutral Architecture Goes Beyond Construction Materials: Planning, Logistics and Context
Discussing carbon neutrality in architecture should not only be based on local materials and new technologies, since there are many aspects that impact the construction production chain. From design to construction, without losing sight of the context and economic system of our society, the construction industry is responsible for a considerable part of the energy consumed worldwide. In order to interfere in this reality, it is necessary to expand the fronts of action, questioning the place of construction in our society.
The concept of carbon neutrality is about canceling or negating the amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activities, reducing existing emissions of carbon dioxide and applying methods of absorbing these gases into the atmosphere. Over the last few years, this concept has been incorporated into some architectural practices, mainly in large corporate projects, located mostly in wealthier cities around the world, which has generated a development of technologies, tools and knowledge that puts carbon-neutral architecture at evidence.
Despite being a broad debate, carbon-neutral architecture tends to emerge mainly from two fronts in the discussion of architectural practice: design strategies and construction technology. It seeks to reduce the impact on the environment through minimal consumption of its surroundings and generating as little waste as possible. To this end, projects usually provide strategies that address this dynamic, for example, reducing the need for air conditioning through passive design solutions, which use natural cross ventilation and the thermal inertia of materials. In addition to passive design strategies, technologies such as energy self-sufficiency, which consists of producing what is needed from wind or solar equipment, or even the retention and use of rainwater, are also widely explored in projects aimed at carbon neutrality.
While these strategies focus on the maintenance and useful life of buildings, it is important to note that of the 40% of world energy consumption linked to construction, 80% concerns processing, production and transport of materials for construction. This means that, in addition to reusing resources and energy optimization, an important neutral architecture strategy consists of mapping the construction production chain, with a view to emitting greenhouse gases and proposing alternative solutions within the possible scales, either from changing the construction technique, prioritizing local materials and vernacular techniques, or from possible local consumption, seeking suppliers and workers from locations close to the territory, saving circuits with fossil fuels, for example.
It is important to point out, however, that construction is one of the main economic activities in the world, playing an important role in the employment of people and in the movement of resources and at various times represented an important ally in the economic recovery in the midst of crises. At the same time, after the industrial revolution, the construction industry incorporated a logic that transformed the entire production chain in the search for efficiency and speed, not only at construction sites, but also in the way of extracting and transforming natural materials, to the detriment of the environment and labor relations. Currently, despite many efforts and research, it is increasingly evident that this production logic is incompatible with a carbon-neutral production chain and also with the maintenance of life as we know it nowadays on the planet.
Therefore, on the one hand, the key elements of neutral architecture are in planning and design, seeking to employ solutions that search for low energy consumption and low emission of greenhouse gases in its production chain, considering all stages, from the extraction of raw material to the work, on the other hand, this intervention is limited by the social conditions of the construction activity in each context. The standardization of the production chain, tied to materials and techniques that have a high impact on the environment, makes it difficult to search for alternatives in the sector, whether due to its high cost, difficulty in labor or even logistical incompatibilities, such as lack of access to materials and technologies.
Thus, discussions on carbon-neutral architecture need to incorporate, in addition to technology and design themes, debates on the civil construction production chain and how the context impacts the acceptance and incorporation of these solutions into projects, seeking to broaden the debate and consequently its performance.
This article is part of ArchDaily Topics: The Road to Net Zero Architecture. Monthly, we explore a specific topic through articles, interviews, news and projects. Learn more about ArchDaily topics. As always, ArchDaily is open to contributions from our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, please contact us.