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What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on? The Sustainability Paradox.


“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” –  Abraham Lincoln. 

The Future appears to be quite frightening. Unknown abounds. There are many twists and turns. How can you possibly know what will happen? The greatest path to knowing what’s coming is to be an active participant. Do some Tomorrowcasting and focus on Soul Searching.

The beginning of 2022 is a big sign to gather your thoughts and contemplate the Fate of the Future. We find ourselves in the midst of geopolitical turbulence as the world slowly recovers from the upheaval of the Global Pandemic.

The World is reacting to one problem at a time. But what about the biggest challenge that humanity has to face. We all are sitting on a ticking bomb called Global Warming & Climate Change. 

For years, climate change has been a hotly debated topic. As a result, many influential leaders, presidents, and CEOs have spoken out about climate change.

However, the gravity of this situation is comprehended by few and even fewer people have actually started to give this a serious thought and started planning.

Sustainability is not just a buzz word it’s Paramount.

Reacting to Climate Change by Design

Climate change is the most critical design issue of our era. It poses an existential hazard and the growing population & rising infrastructure needs are major contributors, even more so than the common scapegoat, the automobile industry. As per studies, Buildings & Structure consume over 40% of the energy used in the United States each year, and they emit nearly half of the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by greenfield construction, cement manufacture, and the consumption of fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal, as any architect should know. Since CO2 traps solar energy in the atmosphere, heating the earth, it is the primary cause of climate change, making construction and the design industry as a whole extremely responsible and accountable.

CO2 levels in the atmosphere have been rising since the industrial revolution and peaked in the 1980s with the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of Globalization. In 2013 it surpassed 400 parts per million for the first time since the Pliocene Epoch (3 million to 5 million years ago). The global temperature was 5.4 F/C to 7.2 F/C warmer than it is today during the Middle Pliocene, which scientists study because its climate harbingers our own quickly looming future. The arctic areas were so warm that coniferous trees flourished there, and sea levels were 16 to 131 feet higher.

As businesses and governments debate how to address climate change, architects have a massive opportunity—and, some might argue, a huge responsibility—to make a difference.

Jesse Keenan, Ph.D., a lecturer in Science, Technology, and Public Policy at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and John F. Kennedy School of Government, says “Architecture is currently in a state of paralysis” and the discipline has now fallen behind.

“It thought it had arrived at the pinnacle of environmental stewardship and sustainability, only to discover that it was largely self-serving and that there are far more pressing concerns about density, affordability, accessibility, and all of these other social issues.” To put it another way, it’s not as simple as putting up solar panels and calling it a day, Jesse added.

The AIA 2030 Commitment brings together firms to work toward this goal, examining each signatory firm’s complete portfolio and gathering data on progress.

While the 2030 goals are ambitious, one stumbling issue is that participation is still voluntary, leaving individual companies to strive for success and self-reporting for the time being. However, because architects must adhere to building regulations & city codes, modifying those codes on a local, state, and even international level will be a critical component of moving the industry toward energy efficiency.

One glimmer of hope is a growing awareness of the importance of sustainable design, as well as technological breakthroughs that make it easier and more economical to construct more energy-efficient facilities. However, architects must begin planning ahead in order to meet this critical & essential challenge.

Some big players have already stepped up and put their best foot forward, In Shanghai Tower, a LEED Platinum 127-story building in China, Gensler used a translucent second skin to insulate and reduce energy use for heating and cooling. Water conservation systems and 200 wind turbines are also installed in the skyscraper, which helps generate power for certain areas. By 2030, Gensler plans to have made its whole portfolio net zero. “We are the largest architecture and design firm in the world, and with our scale of designing 1.5 billion square feet of buildings and interiors each year, our actions will impact millions around the globe,” says Andy Cohen, co-CEO of Gensler.

However, facing Global Warming & Climate change issues is a collective undertaking. To add to this problem, the understanding of sustainability is not very clear and has different perspectives depending on who you are asking the question.

How do Architects play an important role in fighting Climate Change?

The world of architecture and design has a huge impact on the state of not just the natural environment, but also on long-term development. With a construction industry that still relies heavily on fossil fuels, the architecture profession is under increasing pressure to adopt greener practices. Alternative design and building approaches, as well as innovative ways of thinking that are better at sustaining the natural environment, have progressed.

During the recent Global Climate Strikes, millions of people put aside their regular lives and obligations to protest political inaction on climate change. Notable architecture firms and designers abandoned their offices to join the initiative.

The architectural profession has a significant role in deciding not only the quality of the natural environment but also the state of sustainable development as a whole.

8 Ways Architects Can Address Global Warming & Climate Change

  • Carbon-Neutral Approach – Looks easier said than done and many architects today are concerned about making buildings carbon-neutral or, better yet, zero-carbon.

A carbon-negative building removes more carbon from the atmosphere over its lifetime than it emits. This includes operational carbon from the building’s heat and power consumption as well as assimilated carbon from the extraction, fabrication, and transportation of construction materials.

  • Leverage Digital Technology – Revolutionary technologies, like BIM, allow for the early understanding and measurement of a project’s impacts. This improved design efficiency can aid in making conscious decisions that have an impact on a project’s environmental footprint. Projects can be completed faster with fewer on-site changes at the last minute, reducing waste and overall energy consumption.
  • Reversible Architecture – The term ‘reversibility’ refers to the ability to alter structures or dismantle their systems, goods, and materials without causing harm. The goals of a circular economy – a closed-loop system where all materials are reused to eliminate waste – are aligned with the goals of reversible architecture. Buildings that can be dismantled and repurposed suggest that their components can be utilized in other projects.

A reversible design means that entire structures can be demolished and their components repurposed at the end of their lives, ensuring that no components go to waste.

  • Building Material Reuse – The construction sector generates hundreds of millions of tonnes of non-industrial garbage for landfills in the United States every year. Much of this garbage comes from demolition work done before the start of new construction projects. Reusing wasted raw materials not only saves money but also reduces greenhouse gas emissions when new materials are manufactured. Contractors and owners have begun considering buildings as “material banks” that serve as temporary storage facilities for materials to be utilized in future projects, as seen in Europe.

  • Restorative Architecture – Restorative architecture is also known as renewable architecture which directs to constructions that have a positive environmental impact.

This, according to biomimetic architect Pawyln, is a critical way for architects to help address today’s various environmental concerns, arguing that design that “merely mitigates negatives” is insufficient.

‘Restorative’ architecture is the next step in the evolution of ‘green’ architecture, in which a building contributes more to the environment over its lifetime than it consumes during its construction and operation. It responds to and utilizes the living and natural systems that exist in a place, which serve as the architecture’s “building blocks.”

  • Retrofitting – Retrofitting improves a building’s energy efficiency and thermal performance, lowering its dependency on heating and cooling, or modernizing a structure that would otherwise be demolished.

Architects may keep materials and the embodied carbon they contain in use for longer by prioritizing the rehabilitation of existing building stock over demolition, deferring the additional emissions caused by demolition.

  • Go Timber – According to Dezeen, the four billion tonnes of cement generated each year for concrete manufacturing accounts for 8% of overall carbon dioxide emissions. This process uses a lot of water, which puts pressure on water supplies for drinking and agriculture. Timber is the only material with a lower embodied energy level than concrete, making it a feasible option. One of the most significant advantages of using timber in construction is that it can absorb vast amounts of carbon from the environment and store it within a structure for as long as it stands. However, increasing the use of wood must be accompanied by more sustainable forestry management, which is a major producer of CO2.
  • Spread the word of Sustainability – The building sector is heavily reliant on fossil fuels, resulting in a significant carbon impact. Designers have turned to biodegradable materials to make the construction process more environmentally friendly. Mycelium, the vegetative portion of a fungus, is one such substance. When dried, it’s made up of hundreds of interwoven fibers, giving it a very strong substance. Organic bricks can be created and utilized in construction by combining farm waste with molds. The bricks are made with no carbon emissions or waste, and they can degrade and return to the carbon cycle once they’ve served their purpose. Cork, bamboo, and desert sand are examples of biodegradable materials that have been utilized in construction.

Architects tend to portray themselves as civic-minded and well-intentioned individuals. People who wish to make a difference in the world are drawn to the profession. What could be more important than avoiding environmental and societal collapse?

So, what would architecture look like, and, more importantly, what would it be if everyone engaged put climate change at the forefront of their concerns?

While the architectural profession faces barriers in tackling climate change, architects have a powerful weapon in their arsenal: Creativity. To make substantial progress in the next years, large ideas and a rejection of the status quo will be required. Architects need to fight in their initiatives to make some examples come to fruition.

The most important, and fascinating, endeavor that architects of this era will likely encounter in their careers is rethinking the design, construction, operation, and demolition of buildings in order to reduce climate change and increase resilience to its consequences. In order for civilization to survive, and perhaps prosper, architecture must change with the climate, and change immediately.

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