The New Decade
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Architects – the conscience of the building sector

City Panorama

The role played by architecture in climate change is not yet entirely clear. We’re still trying to work out if we need to take a new stance on architectural culture. Architects now bear a major responsibility. They have become the ‘conscience of construction’ – the ones expected to ask the right questions. Answering these questions is something we can only do together.

2020 is not just another year. Entering 2020 means there are only ten years to go before 2030 – the year associated with so many sustainability goals. To mark 2020, six members of the DGNB board look back at the last ten years in the building sector and cast their gaze forwards. One topic – examined from six angles. In the next post on this blog, Hermann Horster looks at the sustainability status of the real estate industry.


Modern times have already shown the meaning attached to architecture in the age of industrialisation. But this is an age we’ve now left behind. What we’re trying to work out today is what the answers are to a new big question of our times: what role should architecture play when it comes to climate change?

Answering this question will require a new way of thinking as we rid ourselves of the shackles of familiarity. In times of continual change, architecture also needs to be fundamentally challenged.

Posing fundamental questions

Actually, thinking about it: what kind of buildings do we need anyway? And when we erect buildings, how can we exploit the full potential they offer? In what ways do buildings benefit society or people? What kind of environmental footprint does a building make? Where do we source our materials from?

So much has happened over the last ten years. There are so many topics on the sustainable building checklist that it would be safe to call what’s happening Sustainability 2.0. Sustainability factors have evolved from being a kind of add-on, a purely technical issue, into a factor of global relevance with an impact on entire infrastructures.

Alnatura Campus

We have seldom asked so many questions about a building as we did for the Alnatura Campus. It was worth it! © Roland Halbe

Governed by their own laws: time and money

Clearly, too many buildings are still flung up these days without asking important questions. Is this just because architectural firms have too little time or too many financial pressures? Even if architects have realised how serious things are getting, they often face owners and investors who want the cheapest possible solutions in the quickest possible time. But time is exactly what you need to address these issues.

Or is it because we’re in the middle of a property boom and this boom doesn’t need new or innovative ideas? It’s still too easy to make money on property. So people have lowered their expectations when it comes to what we build. This has dire consequences – for example, buildings are being torn down much too quickly because they no longer have any commercial value.

An appeal to consciences

I’m sure there are many reasons why people want to stymie good, sustainable architecture. But none of those reasons could possibly be a justification for us as architects to refuse to be innovators. Quite the opposite. It’s precisely in areas with strong market forces that you need decision-makers who listen to their consciences when it comes to building. People who can be arbitrators, who don’t just think about efficiency and function. Architects can serve as that voice when it comes to aesthetics and good workmanship. And the challenges of climate change make it all the more important for us as architects to adopt this role.

Sharing the journey into a carbon-neutral future

We still don’t know what to do about the big issue of time. But we do have some useful ideas, numbers provided to us by scientists and a clear direction as we cast our eyes towards a carbon-neutral future. So it’s up to us what this future will look like in architectural terms. It’s a challenging task to take on, but a fantastic one!

For this to work, we all need to pull together and rid ourselves of the widely held mindset that it’s each man to himself. We need to use every ounce of available know-how. The DGNB already offers a wonderful fountain of knowledge, overflowing with ideas that would require a long time if we had to think up everything by ourselves.

Logo Phase Sustainability

It also launched its Phase Sustainability initiative in 2019, which not only appeals for a transformation in building and design practice, but also offers a powerful network of architects and planning specialists to discuss all these issues.

Dear Architects,

You can help shape a positive future. Start right now by asking the right questions. And we’ll move things forward until we work out the answers together. Climate change is a man-made problem. So let’s find a man-made solution. Together – with every one of us doing our part.

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