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'We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us.'

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Nevelyn Black's picture
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Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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“We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us.”  Some of the best quotes about buildings point to the responsibility of the designer.  In film, it has been debated that filmmakers have a responsibility to their audience.  Do architects, designers and developers bear a similar responsibility?  Architecture 2030 is urging all architects, engineers, planners and individuals to design all new projects, renovations, landscapes, cityscapes and infrastructure as zero carbon contributors.  Step 1 of their plan is to design efficient buildings that use little energy to operate.  Studies have shown that applying higher standards is cost effective and reduces occupant energy burdens.  Reducing energy demand lowers greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels but it also reduces other air pollutants that can harm our health.  A new modeling study revealed improving energy efficiency in buildings throughout the United States could prevent 1,800 to 3,600 premature deaths every year.  The study first comprehensively examined the outcomes by modeling the effects of increased building energy efficiency on both indoor and outdoor air quality.  Researchers used a computer model of the U.S. energy system to analyze two scenarios of energy efficiency improvements across residential, commercial, and industrial buildings.“Intensive energy efficiency improvements that are feasible and verified would save thousands of lives each year, but the gains could be even greater if they are coupled with improvements to indoor air recirculation and filtration,” says Kenneth Gillingham, professor of economics at Yale University and his collaborators in Science Advances journal.  “These findings broadly align with the efforts to improve air recirculation and filtration inspired by COVID-19,” he adds.

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Meeting local energy standards and analyzing indoor air quality may not be enough to reach climate and emissions goals. Some strongly advocate for the reduction of emissions during construction.  This is the embodied carbon or the carbon footprint of a building or infrastructure project before it becomes operational.  If construction persist as is, between now and 2050, embodied carbon will grow to account for nearly 50 percent of the overall carbon footprint of new construction.  Of course, retrofitting existing buildings is another welcomed strategy for energy efficiency and lower emissions.  However, the primary goal of energy conservation and efficiency is to seal a structure to improve insulation but the spread of COVID-19 has intensified the need for better building ventilation.  These opposing factors create a unique challenge for creative designers to tackle.   

In the next few years, the demand for the Commercial Building Energy Efficiency Market is expected to rise substantially.  Will new standards lead to smarter designs and provide a clear path to increased energy efficiency?  If ‘Architecture is a visual art, and the buildings speak for themselves,’ what will they say about us?

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 7, 2021

What an elegant but powerful quote-- both from an energy standpoint and otherwise: form, function, health, anything really forwar-looking

 

Thanks Nevelyn!

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Matt Karber on Sep 15, 2021

Ms. Black, 

Thank you for the post. Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute has said that a thing is not beautiful if it is not efficient (paraphrase). You wrote that "COVID-19 has intensified the need for better building ventilation." The question is, what is "better"? There are systems designed to bring incoming air through the root systems of plants to provide natural purification. The natural bacteria in that soil might help stop viruses such as coronavirus from passing through. This could result in a system that is both efficient (not requiring more energy for filtration), and beautified by the plants. Thank you.

Matt Karber

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