At the moment we have less of a feeling that we could shape our own future. But crises force us to rethink our practice. Today, it is still possible to ignore climate-related issues in planning. But we can change that now – if we want to.
This article has been published in German in md Mag. Free translation by DGNB.
Construction with all its manufacturing processes is one of the strongest CO2 emitters and thus one of the biggest contributors to the climate crisis. We know that. Nevertheless, this has hardly any consequences for planning and construction practice. Buildings are still built in ways that exploit resources and the environment and destroy the ecosystem. Architects assist in that.
Even if there are attempts to find new approaches, they usually cannot be enforced by building owners and authorities. Architects have the great responsibility to set impulses for change and to ask more questions:
Do we really have to build from scratch?
Or can we use existing buildings to preserve grey energy, identity, building history as a reflection of society? How can we plan a building in such a way, that it will continue to be gladly used after its current use and will have a long-lasting quality? What added value does architecture provide for the urban society or for the countryside, what does it do for the user? What ecological damage does the building cause and is it healthy for the user?
Today, it still is possible to ignore all these relevant questions in the planning process! It is up to the client, building laws and architects to change this. This would be a great investment in the future for all involved, and to put it bluntly, in the survival of mankind.
Architects could once again become innovators
If we do not succeed in reducing global warming, irreparable tipping points can occur, which endanger life on earth, scientists warn.
Architects could thus once again become innovators, as they were in the 1990s, when we rethought architecture in terms of content, technology and climate. Today, hardly anyone does this voluntarily any more. This costs a lot of additional thought, time and money and is characterized by great uncertainty. But it is absolutely necessary if we want to participate in the change of planning practice in order to prevent tipping points of the ecosystem.
Since we already know the ‘vaccine’, this is even less drastic and costly than preventing the tipping point of the corona crisis. We have alternative forms of energy, renewable raw materials and can adapt our behavior to new ideas.
Questioning is a lot of fun
In our office we are currently gaining concrete experience in various pilot projects – that’s what projects are called, where you try something new and don’t build with concrete or steel. If things go quite well in the planning phase, we can question everything that is already known, tried out and secured by the standards. The questioning then goes right into the planning process, such as the awarding of contracts. This is demanding and responsible – and it is a lot of fun.
How do you plan a climate-neutral building? Can this be solved with technology alone, or isn’t it also a fantastic challenge to find an architectural formulation for it?
After a crisis, things continue
Comprehensive crises, such as the Covid-19 crisis, make us aware of what is and has to be preserved and what needs to be changed. Innovation research shows us the potential to initiate radical changes. After a crisis, things continue. The economic damage will be great. Entire industries could disappear or change completely. New industries can be strengthened. But no one knows whether the discourse will then be changed logically, from economy-driven exploitation to mindfulness and reduction. It can go in both directions – or in any other direction as well.
The ‘Phase Sustainability’ can help us
We will also experience this in construction and planning. The big chance would be to treat the environment more considerately. The ‘Phase Sustainability‘, which was initiated last year by the DGNB together with the Federal Chamber of Architects, can help us to address the important issues and ask the right questions in discussions with the clients.
At the same time, it also offers a shoulder-to-shoulder approach with colleagues who have also committed themselves to participate by signing. Together we can thus try to shape the future differently and in doing so change our own practice, with the experience we have gained during the crisis, when we realized that we can do many things differently and still keep our commitments and reach our goal.