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As the world continues to reel from the impacts of COVID-19, we are all working to figure out how to best proceed in this new context. One element of our reality that is undiminished is climate change. And while some may say it is too early to focus on anything but COVID-19, I say this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to refashion our work, and our lives, toward climate change solutions and visions of a better world. We will pick up the pieces—how we put them back together is up to us.

Debra Roberts, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warns that “the next few years are probably the most important in our history … Limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” The challenge is one of speed and scale. A few exceptional buildings by elite firms will not get us there. We need strong policies, transformative innovations, and replicable climate change solutions that lift all boats.We are struck by the parallels between COVID-19 and our larger, slower-burning climate crisis, by the consequences of inaction in the face of science, of underfunding vital research, of insufficient and slow response. In light of the urgency for action commensurate with the scale of the climate change challenge, and the need for a clear vision for the built environment moving forward, EHDD is committing to advancing what we are calling “climate positive” design across our portfolio.

Our vision will be advanced in concert with colleagues, clients, and collaborators towards the ultimate goal of a built environment that is genuinely climate-positive by 2030. If EHDD’s portfolio can get there by 2030, we hope California can do so by 2040 and the rest of the US by 2050. To say this is ambitious is a grand understatement: It is the most significant transformation since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

The Principles of Climate Positive Design

1. Electrify Everything

We simply cannot continue to burn natural gas and other fossil fuels in our buildings and expect to conquer the climate crisis. Let’s electrify everything and run all our buildings on electricity coming from on-site photovoltaics and an increasingly clean electricity grid.

Stop burning fossil fuels.

Joe Biden’s climate plan includes eliminating all emissions from the electricity sector by 2035. This reflects the current reality that the renewable energy component of the electricity grid is increasing at a rate that even advocates would not have imagined a few years ago. In order to truly get to zero emission buildings, we need to hitch our wagons to this speeding train and run our buildings on electricity.

In my home state of California, dozens of municipalities have banned natural gas hookups in new buildings over the past year. And in our practice and that of many of our peers, all electric design is standard. For new construction the economics are clear that all electric buildings can cost less to build and operate if designed correctly.

Maximize efficiency and PVs.

Energy efficiency is as important as ever. In states with strong energy codes, like California, Washington, and New York, meeting or slightly beating the energy code is often good enough, in concert with electrification. If your energy codes are not up to snuff, consider using California’s code as a benchmark target. The cost of installing on-site photovoltaics has dropped precipitously over the past several years, such that in most cases there is an excellent return on investment on installations. Who doesn’t like a energy bill of zero dollars? Sign me up.

Use clean energy.

One of the challenges we will increasingly face is that there is plenty of clean energy available when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, but we need to fire up dirty power plants at night and during peak usage periods. The more we can align our energy use with the resources on the grid, the better chance we have of reaching an emission-free economy cost-effectively.

New electric appliances like heat pump hot water heaters allow you to schedule use to avoid peak emission periods, and smart meters allow utilities to remotely apply “demand management” for willing customers. Our Sonoma Clean Power Headquarters is the first pilot project for the USGBC and New Buildin
The coronavirus pandemic is having huge impacts on the built environment. And those impacts will continue to be felt for the foreseeable future. Our homes, offices, and schools will need to be reconfigured, repurposed and, in some cases, completely reimagined. For years I’ve advocated for a concept called Open Building. With the premise that long-term use and adaptability of buildings and places is inherently more sustainable, Open Building seeks to enhance longevity and resilience through a set of basic principles that affect design, as well as how buildings are constructed and managed over time.

Today, we build 100-year buildings that have constantly changing program needs. Too often, these structures become obsolete within as little as 5 or 10 years. Because funding cycles are long, major reconfigurations are infrequent, highly disruptive, and expensive when they occur. Buildings thought to be unadaptable are prematurely demolished and replaced. Open Building anticipates and facilitates the reconfiguration of spaces and structures facilities, so that change can occur while minimizing disruption to neighboring spaces and supporting a higher degree of local decision-making.

Why the Open Building Approach Has Special Relevance Now

The approach creates permanent settings for continuous, incremental, and, to a degree, autonomous change. We’ve seen, since just late February, a profound change in our living and working habits, and a corresponding impact on the spaces we occupy. As the school year approaches, we’re facing the prospect of empty rooms because they have lost two-thirds of their capacity due to imposed social distancing. We’re staying away from our offices or returning in selective cohorts for one or two days a week. We’re working at home, perhaps in makeshift spaces carved out of close quarters, and we are now sharing our homes with family members who had been living elsewhere. Many of our social, entertainment, cultural, and religious resources sit empty in the face of the bans on large gatherings.

If we can turn our convention centers into field hospitals, we should easily be able to reconfigure our dwellings for changing live/work situations; adjust learning clusters to accommodate more and different-sized classes with required social distancing; and successfully appropriate other spaces that have been designed to do more than one thing well. And our workspaces should be structured as blended environments, where the experience of collaborating with team members both inside and outside the office is seamless.

The Layouts of Schools, Offices, and Homes Will Change as the Pandemic Continues

School classrooms will need to flex more readily for changing cohorts of students sometimes working in greater isolation and in smaller numbers. Integrated technology will need to be tuned and intensified to allow blended learning so that students attending classes online at the same time as their counterparts learning on the spot feel equally connected and equally engaged. Other spaces, indoors and out, will need to be conceived as alternate settings for students to learn and explore in smaller groups. Air quality, regulated through a combination of natural ventilation and carefully filtered mechanical systems, will become critical considerations in the design of learning environments.

Office environments will no longer be collective 9-to-5 workplaces. Like schools, offices will be occupied by cohorts at assigned times, and meetings will be carefully orchestrated and scheduled. Nimble companies will learn to shift gears as restrictions on work environments ebb and flow according to health priorities. The expectation will be that there will be less densely occupied open work areas and more individualized space for those on specific assignments. Most if not all employees will spend a larger portion of their time working at home, again pointing to the need for adaptability and ease of change.

Homes will remain places of refuge but will evolve into more versatile environments where work is supported. With extended families going through longer and intermittent periods of sheltering in place, individual spaces may have to be designed for daily changes in use and the ability to shift interior layouts and, in favorable circumstances, expand or retract within a broader flexible framework will be increasingly important.

Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Cities across the U.S. are pledging to plant trees and restore urban forests to combat climate change and cool off disadvantaged communities.

As the U.S. grapples with natural disasters and racial injustice, one coalition of U.S. cities, companies and nonprofits sees a way to make an impact on both fronts: trees.

Specifically, they committed to planting and restoring 855 million of them by 2030 as part of the Trillion Trees Initiative, a global push to encourage reforestation to capture carbon and slow the effects of global heating. Announced on Thursday, it’s the first nationwide pledge to the program, and additionally noteworthy because the U.S. group — which includes Microsoft Corp. and Mastercard Inc. — will focus on urban plantings as means of improving air quality in communities that have been disproportionately affected by pollution and climate change.

“We’re passionate about urban forestry and the goal of tree equity,” says Jad Daley, president and chief executive officer of American Forests, the longtime conservation group that’s helped organize the pledge. “It’s not just about more trees in cities. If you show me a map of tree cover in any city, you’re showing me a map of race and income levels. We see this as nothing less than a moral imperative.”

While the urban commitments to trees make up a small fraction of the 855 million trees pledged thus far, they do represent a significant investment in greening urban America. Tucson, Arizona, will plant 1 million trees, with Mayor Regina Romero specifically calling out a commitment to “front-line and low-income communities.” Dallas is pledging more than 18 million trees, Detroit will plant 50,000 citywide, and Chicago promised to boost its tree canopy by 4 percent. Boise, Idaho’s City of Trees challenge promises add 335,000 new trees to the city’s landscape. The Arbor Day Foundation also pledged to plant 25 million trees in urban areas nationwide.

Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
The local planning council for London’s Vauxhall district has recently given the green light for an adaptive reuse scheme to transform a disused Costa Coffee roastery into a six-story, net-zero carbon office development. Designed by British architectural design firm Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBStudios), the project — named Paradise — will replace a neglected site with 60,000 square feet of work and maker space housed within a landmark cross-laminated timber structure. The sustainably minded building will follow WELL standards, passive design principles and quality place-making values to benefit both the local and citywide community.

Located on Old Paradise Street, the Paradise project aims to catalyze job creation in Lambeth and attract creative industries in this part of London. The timber-framed office development will feature a flexible, open-plan layout with tall ceilings and large windows that not only maximize natural light and ventilation but also frame views of the passing trains and the neighboring Old Paradise Gardens. In a nod to the site’s location as a “key link” in the “green chain” that joins Waterloo to Vauxhall, the architects plan to wrap the building in a green, extruded terracotta facade that takes cues from the former Royal Doulton Headquarters.

“Paradise was born of a collective approach to sustainable design, humanistic values and quality place-making, but also the desire to make a healthy and innovative workplace that people would love to use,” said Alex Whitbread, partner at FCBStudios. “Paradise is designed to be part of its local and citywide community and to make a responsible contribution globally. With this scheme receiving planning permission, we hope it will set the standard for office design that is net-carbon-zero and has the wellbeing of the user at the fore. We are looking forward to bringing it to fruition.”

Bywater Properties has proposed allocating up to 13% of the total floor area for non-office use, such as light industrial and maker spaces, 68% of which will be made affordable with priority given to local businesses. The adaptive reuse proposal is also on target for almost 60 years of a negative carbon footprint.

The coronavirus lockdown has left people marveling over clean air in Los Angeles and images of African penguins strolling through Cape Town. But emissions will rebound in a geologic blink of the eye. Energy expert Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), gives the world six months post-lockdown to get on track before the planet spirals into irreversible damage.

According to the IEA, governments will spend about $9 trillion globally over the next few months to bail out their floundering economies. Exactly how that money is spent can make or break the planet’s future. “The next three years will determine the course of the next 30 years and beyond,” Birol told the Guardian. “If we do not [take action] we will surely see a rebound in emissions. If emissions rebound, it is very difficult to see how they will be brought down in future. This is why we are urging governments to have sustainable recovery packages.”

The IEA published its own report outlining plans for a green recovery. This report prioritizes creating more green jobs instead of returning to the high-carbon economy. It also suggests jobs that will reform energy generation and consumption, such as constructing wind farms, erecting solar panels and retrofitting existing buildings to improve energy efficiency.

April saw global carbon dioxide emissions plunge by an average of 17%. Unfortunately, emissions have already rebounded to within 5% of 2019’s levels.

Birol is not alone in calling for a green recovery. Experts all over the world are urging reform. Some countries are listening. The EU has promised to center its economy on a new European green deal. Whether global leaders will follow through on putting their dollars into lowering emissions is not yet clear.

José Hevia via Calderon-Folch Studio
Spain’s coastal city of Badalona has recently welcomed the Centre for Comparative Medicine and Bio-Image, a new research facility designed to meet high standards of energy efficiency and sustainability. Pilar Calderon and Marc Folch of Barcelona-based architecture firm Calderon-Folch Studio teamed up with Pol Sarsanedas and landscape designer Lluís Corbella to create a site-specific building that would offer the highest levels of comfort as a means to attract and retain both local and international talent. Embedded into the landscape, the compact facility was constructed with a prefabricated wooden framework and clad in larch to blend in with the nearby forest.

Because the Centre for Comparative Medicine and Bio-Image is located on sloped terrain, the architects placed the portion of the building containing the research floors partly underground to take advantage of thermal mass for stable climatic conditions year-round. Building into the landscape has also allowed the architects to create two access levels: one used as a general entrance for the administrative area, and the other for logistic purposes for the scientific-technical area. The separation of areas by levels optimizes building operations and adheres to the strict requirements of biological containment.

“The new Centre for Comparative Medicine and Bio-Image holds a research center of the first order,” the designers explained in a project statement. “A research facility based on ethical research criteria, technical and functional complexity, and comfort features that have been resolved in an efficient and sustainable way that strongly considers its relationship with the environment.”

Natural materials, large glazed openings and naturalized exterior spaces visually tie the research facility to the environment. Eco-friendly considerations were also taken with the use of a modular, lightweight wooden framework with loose-fill cellulose and structural insulated panels that minimize material waste. Moreover, the building follows passive solar principles. The research facility is equipped with high-performance energy and air-flow recycling technologies as well as a 250-square-meter rainwater collection tank for sanitary and irrigation purposes.

Oskar Proctor
A hemp farm’s fields flow from the hills to the walls of a new prefab home by Practice Architecture.

History runs deep in the northeast region of England known as Cambridgeshire, home to the world-renowned Cambridge University and some of the country’s oldest archaeological digs dating back to the Bronze Age. The area is also known for producing hemp, which was used for centuries to make everything from rope to fabric, paper, and ship sails.

Drawing upon this agricultural heritage, London-based Practice Architecture incorporated hemp into the exterior cladding of a recently completed, environmentally friendly farmhouse.

The home is located on Margent Farm, a research and development facility specializing in bioplastics made of hemp and flax. Although hemp was outlawed in the 1920s because of its association with narcotics—it’s essentially a low-THC cousin of marijuana—it can be used to produce a wide range of products, and the crop’s ability to sequester carbon makes it an eco-friendly material.

To illustrate the material’s potential, Margent Farm hired Practice Architecture to design a three-bedroom farmhouse with an exterior made from the first hemp crop grown on-site.

First, the firm worked with the farm to find an appropriate location for the building, which is set on the foundation of a former barn. They then collaborated with engineers and material specialists to develop a prefabricated panel filled with hemp grown on 20 acres of the farm.

The corrugated panels are made of nonwoven hemp fiber blended with a resin made from the farm’s biowaste—like corn cobs, oat hulls, and leftover sugarcane fiber. Underneath these panels lies a layer of hemp-based insulation, which is left exposed for a warm, textured feel.

The firm designed the "groundbreaking, radically low embodied carbon house" as a prototype to explore how hemp can be used to create prefabricated, sustainable materials that can be applied to large-scale buildings and homes. Thanks to the prefabricated panels, the home’s exterior was completed in an astounding two days.

"The building is comprised of a series of linked spaces that transition from a large, open single-glazed hot house to a double-height yet intimate living space, and then into two stories of sleeping accommodations," explains Practice Architecture. The interior includes open spaces for work, collaboration, and education; a research and design laboratory; a bold yellow kitchen, three bedrooms, and a bathroom.

The interiors maintain a soft, textured feel with natural fibers and wood furniture, and the farmhouse is powered and heated by a biomass boiler and a rooftop photovoltaic array, making it truly off-grid and potentially even carbon neutral.

Architecture 2030, U.S. Energy Information Administration
Ed Mazria believes that with a shared vision, "we can grow our economies, create and support livable and equitable communities, and phase out fossil fuels to solve the climate crisis."

“When written in Chinese, the word crisis () is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other
represents opportunity.”

—John F. Kennedy

The heartbreaking crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic brings with it a rare opportunity for the architecture, planning, and building community. We know the pandemic is already changing the way we live and conduct business, affecting the way we will design and ultimately the way we will build.

As temperatures continue to rise and many are still sheltering in place, we are also reminded of the need for dramatic action to mitigate the other planetary emergency we are facing: the climate crisis. Our collective work to effectively address this life-threatening crisis is already underway. We have realized the seemingly impossible and have paved the way for our community to move forward.

Since the Industrial Revolution, as the economy grew so did the building sector, resulting in more construction, more energy consumption, and more CO₂ emissions. During the Great Recession, from 2007 through 2009, the U.S. gross domestic product stalled and so did the building sector. However, after 2009, when the economy began to grow again and GDP rose, the unexpected happened: Beginning in 2010, U.S. economic growth and increased building construction decoupled from building sector energy use and CO₂ emissions—an unprecedented achievement in modern U.S. history.

While U.S. GDP increased 26.2% and the building sector floor area by 18% (about 47 billion square feet), operating energy use and emissions in the building sector decreased by 1.7%, and 21%, respectively. This decoupling now appears to be actualizing globally as well.

Our leadership, influence, and power as architects, designers, and allied professionals go beyond borders and governments, as we are primarily responsible for shaping the built environment. It’s clear we can grow our economies, create and support livable and equitable communities, and phase out fossil fuels to solve the climate crisis.

Now is the time to deepen our motivation and expand our actions—designing buildings with no on-site fossil fuels; shifting to carbon positive buildings, materials, construction, and infrastructure; implementing building decarbonization; creating clean energy jobs; integrating passive design strategies and renewable energy in projects; and designing to keep people safe during climate catastrophes and pandemics.

With global building construction stalled and the sector’s emissions set to drop significantly this year, by accelerating our efforts post-pandemic and continuing to work together with a shared vision, we suddenly have within our grasp what once seemed unreachable: keeping planetary warming to 1.5 degrees C. We should welcome this opportunity as we reshape our world in this time of crisis.
Ryan Peltier
Timber buildings are popping up around the world. Are they the solution to construction’s carbon problem?

Construction materials alone, including carbon and steel, contribute 11% of global carbon emissions (by comparison, air travel contributes about 2.5%). That’s why architects and development companies around the world are opting for a novel but not-so-new solution: wood. A study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in Germany, found that with proper forest management, a global boom in wood buildings could sequester up to 700 million tons of carbon a year (wood naturally stores carbon, preventing it from being released into the atmosphere). The idea is catching on: Google’s Sidewalk Labs has proposed a 12-acre timber neighborhood in Toronto, while in February, France mandated that all public buildings after 2022 be constructed of at least 50% wood or other organic materials. The University of Arkansas completed the largest timber building in the U.S. last fall, a 202,000-square-foot dormitory. Architects (and governments) are embracing the material and finding innovative ways to use it.

Zaha Hadid Architects
Gloucestershire, England
5,000-seat football stadium

The Forest Green Rovers is “the greenest football club in the world,” according to FIFA. All food served to players and fans is vegan. Fittingly, Zaha Hadid Architects’ proposed new home for the team is also a carbon-neutral, all-timber stadium—the first of its kind in the world. The 5,000-seat park will be made primarily of sustainably sourced wood and will be daylit, thanks to a lightweight, transparent “roof membrane.” The stadium’s unique shape, says project director Jim Heverin, is also thanks to the material, which “enables the use of unique shapes with little increase to cost,” due to the fabrication process and timber’s light weight. While typical stadiums contribute between 790 pounds and 2,800 pounds of carbon per seat, ZHA estimates Eco Park Stadium will contribute about 440 pounds per seat.

Henning Larsen
Copenhagen, Denmark
7,000-person neighborhood

This development, being planned on a former junkyard in Copenhagen, is the city’s first new neighborhood made entirely of timber. It was designed in collaboration with biologists and environmental engineers; 40% of the 45-acre project site is being preserved as undeveloped habitat for local flora and fauna. Henning Larsen partner Signe Kongebro cites the statistic that 70% of the planet’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050: “It is more crucial than ever that the relationship between city and nature is ‘both/and,’ not ‘either/or.'” The firm plans to use prefabricated timber panels sourced from partners throughout Europe and to integrate nests for birds and bats (built directly into the facades), among other elements that foster nature.

[Illustration: Ryan Peltier]
Voll Arkitekter
Brumunddal, Norway
18-story tower

There are a number of timber-and-steel hybrid high-rises proposed around the world—but Mjøs­tårnet, completed last spring, is the tallest all-timber tower ever built. Debates over timber’s fire safety are ongoing: Architects in the U.K. are fighting to get it removed from a flammable-materials ban instituted after the Grenfell Tower tragedy (though that tower was not made of timber), and Norway had similar laws until 1997. The wood used in Mjøstårnet underwent extensive tests, including one in which large columns were burned for 90 minutes. They proved to be structurally sound, despite charring on the exterior. The material, as well as structural precautions Voll Arkitekter added to the building to prevent fire from spreading, passed Norway’s stringent building standards.

Voll Arkitekter
Brumunddal, Norway
18-story tower

There are a number of timber-and-steel hybrid high-rises proposed around the world—but Mjøs­tårnet, completed last spring, is the tallest all-timber tower ever built. Debates over timber’s fire safety are ongoing: Architects in the U.K. are fighting to get it removed from a flammable-materials ban instituted after the Grenfell Tower tragedy (though that tower was not made of timber), and Norway had similar laws until 1997. The wood used in Mjøstårnet underwent extensive tests, including one in which large columns were burned for 90 minutes. They proved to be structurally sound, despit
Silver Oak Cellars
Designed by the San Francisco–based firm Piechota Architecture, the 113-acre winery is the 25th project to achieve the International Living Future Institute's rigorous standard.

When a 2006 fire destroyed Silver Oak Winery’s vineyard in Oakville, Calif., its owners and staff members channeled their grief into rebuilding an environmentally responsible venue. After completing the rebuild, the project achieved LEED Platinum in 2016, the first production winery to do so. Capitalizing on the lessons learned during that Oakville reconstruction, Silver Oak’s owners had also begun planning a second high-performance winery, this time in Sonoma County's Alexander Valley. Opened to the public in 2018, Silver Oak’s 113-acre Alexander Valley winery announced today that it has been certified as a Living Building by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), making it the largest certified Living Building in the world. It is also the 25th project ever to achieve the ILFI’s rigorous standard, and the second winery to do so.

Designed by the San Francisco–based firm Piechota Architecture, the winery nestles into the rolling hills just east of Healdsburg, Calif. Drawing inspiration from the area’s favored barn style, the architects constructed a complex of tasting rooms, production facilities, and a wine center, each topped by a metal gable roof.

Like all projects that achieve Living Building status, Sliver Oak’s Alexander Valley winery underwent in a one-year audit to prove that the winery meets the ILFI’s net-zero waste, net-zero energy, and net-zero water requirements. Silver Oak's certification report notes that the facility sources its water from an on-site well and from treated wastewater. The winemaker treats wastewater resulting from its production of wine with an ultraviolet light system and a membrane bioreactor before reusing it for indoor plumbing, irrigation, and cleaning equipment. The winery achieves net-positive energy with 2,595 300-watt solar panels arrayed throughout the vineyard and an additional 404 panels on a nearby warehouse and shipping facility, generating 121% if the winery’s energy needs over the year’s audit.

To reduce the winery’s embodied carbon, the structures use concrete comprised of 40% fly ash, salvaged redwood siding—sourced from wine tanks used by the historical 1920s Cherokee Wine Association in Lodi, Calif.—for the building façade, and a lightweight steel frame, which decreased the on-site construction time.

In order to comply with the LBC’s Red List, which mandates that all building materials and products are free of the ILFI’s extensive list of harmful chemicals, Alexander Valley winery’s design team spent three-and-a-half years to vet each component, researching more than 3,000 products and materials before selecting 1,600 different products in the final project.

“We saw this as an opportunity to shift the paradigm in how we think about our most enduring artifacts as an industry: vineyards, wineries, and tasting rooms,” said Silver Oak sustainability manager Haley Duncan in a press release. “Symbolically, the winery is built to engender community relationships and also set a broader, global benchmark here in Sonoma County.”

Feilden Fowles
London-based architecture practice Feilden Fowles has won an international design competition to create the new Central Hall for the National Railway Museum in York, England. Slated for completion in time for the museum’s 50th anniversary in 2025, the new centerpiece building will vastly improve the visitor experience while introducing an ambitious energy strategy to dramatically cut the site-wide operational carbon footprint by 80%. Following the firm’s low-tech philosophy, the design will minimize reliance on concrete and steel in favor of prefabricated timber materials while emphasizing passive design strategies.

In winning the two-phase design competition organized by Malcolm Reading Consultants, Feilden Fowles beat 75 other design firms with their Central Hall proposal that pays homage to the site’s former uses. The building’s central two-story rotunda is directly inspired by the history of locomotive roundhouses and railway turntables. Recycled patinated copper will clad the structure, the interior of which will feel warm and inviting thanks to a predominately timber palette and the abundance of natural light that flows through high clerestory glazing and a skylight fitted in the center of its beautifully engineered roof structure.

The new welcome and orientation space will host a wide variety of programming, including gallery spaces for the museum’s world-class collection, recreational areas, retail and public-facing community spaces. The Central Hall also connects to the five museum portals: the main entrance, Great Hall, Wonderlab, Exhibition Hall, the shop and a new cafe.

Sustainability is a major driving factor behind the Central Hall, a timber-framed building that will be built with traditional, locally sourced materials wherever possible. In addition to the creation of a new energy center with air-source or ground-source heat pumps powered by solar energy, the building follows passive solar principles to enhance thermal comfort and reduce reliance on mechanical systems. Larger spanning and prefabrication of timber elements will also be used to ensure higher quality control and to reduce construction waste.

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
A group of U.S. economists, academics and policy makers say the Covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity to fix the economy — and the planet — for the long term.

If we’re going to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, then let’s do it in a way that shakes up the status quo. This is the message that a group of U.S. economists, professors, and veterans of the last financial crisis sent in a letter to Congress yesterday asking for “green stimulus” legislation to jump-start the economy in a way that controls for climate change and poverty.

They are asking for a $2 trillion commitment for programs that will create living-wage jobs, amped-up public health and housing sectors, and a pivot away from a fossil-fuels-based energy frame. Under their plan, the stimulus would automatically renew every year at 4 percent of GDP, or $850 billion annually, as well as give the public more of a voice in whether — and how — large-scale corporations would get bailouts. For now, the coalition recognizes that the focus should be on stopping the spread of coronavirus and mitigating all related health risks.

“However, we can do all the preparatory work now to make green projects are ‘shovel ready,’” the group said in its open letter published on Medium.com. Legislative action and planning work now “can ensure that physical projects can commence as soon as it is feasible to restart major in-person work across the economy.”

Congress is already deep in the throes of constructing a large economic recovery bill, to help workers losing income and businesses and governments losing revenue due to the novel coronavirus crisis. But the U.S. Senate is stuck in a debate between Republicans who want to dedicate a quarter of its $1.8 trillion stimulus plan to bailing out corporations, and Democrats who want to ensure strict transparency and oversight over how that $500 billion corporate bailout would be registered.

Congressional Democrats are also making their own demands, like making airlines that receive federal funding assistance agree to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent, and making corporations pay a $15 minimum wage to its workers. The Green Stimulus asks Congress to push for even more to guarantee that workers are protected and businesses can operate sustainably to ward off climate change catastrophes, especially in a coronavirus-crippled economy. The authors of the proposal are focused more on the long-term recovery — similar to the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus passed by the Obama administration that followed the 2008 Emergency Economic Stabilization Act bailout of the Bush administration.

In fact, many of the authors of the Green Stimulus letter either worked on the 2009 ARRA legislation or are now working on Green New Deal legislative proposals, and in some cases both. And yes, much of the Green Stimulus package mirrors the Green New Deal. The Green Stimulus architects are operating under guidelines set by a coalition of climate and environmental justice organizations called the “Five Principles for Just Covid-19 Relief and Stimulus:” prioritize public health; provide direct economic relief to families; relieve workers rather than corporate executives; protect elections and democratic processes; and, make a “down payment on a regenerative economy.” The last principle is what the Green Stimulus seeks to represent.

“As policymakers take steps to ensure immediate relief and long-term recovery, it is imperative that they consider the interrelated crises of wealth inequality, racism, and ecological decline, which were in place long before Covid-19, and now risk being intensified,” according to the principles.

CityLab spoke with J. Mijin Cha, an author of the Green Stimulus, senior fellow at Data for Progress, and assistant professor of urban and environmental policy at Occidental College. Much of her scholarship has been on the transition to a low-carbon economy, and how to fairly prepare fossil fuel workers and the unemployed for jobs in renewable energy. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why is a focus on a just transition for workers — from fossil fuel industries to renewable energy industries — an important thing to talk about in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic?

There is an overlap between communities that are struggling with coronavirus that don’t have the resources to adequately fight it, and these rural regions that are fossil fuel communities. As we think about the stimulus, this is definitely an area of workers that
Common Edige
Rapid change has become the new normal in cities, with technological advances and societal shifts spilling out into the physical realm in unpredictable ways. The people shaping our communities—city leaders, planners, design professionals—are faced with a fundamental challenge: How do you design for an uncertain future? The pace of change we’ve seen over the last decade shows no signs of slowing down, and city leaders struggle to predict what fundamental changes the next 10 years will bring, much less plan for them. Are we walking into the next Roaring Twenties? Or will the decade be Reactionary? Rancorous? Revitalized?

To get at these questions, we asked a select group of mayors and leaders in the allied design fields (architecture, landscape architecture, planning, urban design, transportation planning, real estate development) to reflect on what the next decade will bring for cities. All 44 mayors and 45 design leaders participated in the Mayors’ Institute on City Design last year. Answers ranged from the practical to the alarmist, from the aspirational to the fantastical. Within the 64 responses we receive, five interrelated themes emerged.

The Existential Threats of the Last Decade Will Shift From the Theoretical to the Urgent

From climate change to the affordable housing crisis, autonomous vehicles to digital privacy, mayors and design leaders alike see the next decade as a time when abstract challenges will become seismic shifts, and cities will have no choice but to confront them.


“Climate crisis touches everything. Whether we are talking about equity, affordable housing, food resourcing or rezoning, it will become essential to do a climate-engaged environmental impact study for future building/infrastructural projects.” —Mark Gardner, Principal, Jaklitsch/Gardner Architects

“We’ll be talking in terms of ‘retreat urbanism.’ Our cities, when not faced with their own disasters, will become home to climate refugees and people leaving high-risk places. This is already happening, but it will suddenly start being seen and designed for.” —Gina Ford, Principal, Agency Landscape + Planning

“We are going to have to make friends with climate justice.” —Zabe Bent, Director of Design, NACTO

“Now that we’re moving beyond proof of concept for transportation innovation, the next decade will be focused on big shifts in policy and design to ensure that transportation technology rises to the biggest challenge of our time: climate change. We have yet to see the scale at which transportation needs to be transformed, from transit investments and improved operations, mode shift, sustainable micro-mobility, to electrification of all kinds. We have to come together to create the policy, governance, and design conditions to get it done in the next decade.” —Shin-pei Tsay Cunningham, Director of Policy, Cities, and Transportation, Uber


“The lack of affordable housing requires the return of alternative strategies—land trusts, communes, intentional communities, co-housing, and cooperative investment.” —Helen Leung, Co-Executive Director, LA-Más

“The affordable housing crises can open new thinking about zoning to allow for greater density and new (or back to old) housing types.” —Scott Sizer, P3/Joint Ventures Policy Coordinator, County of Fairfax, VA

“Equity will continue to be an important consideration for communities as the income divide increases. Denver has placed a significant emphasis on ensuring that vulnerable residents are not significantly impacted by planning and other policies for investment and potential gentrification. Displacement and access to opportunity will need to be addressed by cities and new development.” —Sarah Nurmela, Neighborhood Planning and Implementation Manager, City and County of Denver


“Automated vehicles will be a public binary trend, all or nothing. They will either become the dominant platform for mass transit, or there will be some catastrophic accident that will put everything on hold for another decade.” —Mayor Tim Keller, Albuquerque, NM

“Autonomous vehicles will not be the cure-all to issues they propose to solve.” —Gina Sofola, Founder, Sofola & Associates

“I think traffic will continue to incre
Tim Graham/Getty Images
The answer is not “eat local.”

“Eat local.” It’s a recommendation you’ve probably heard before. Environmental advocates and even the United Nations have hyped a “locavore” diet as a way to reduce your carbon footprint and help the climate. The basic idea is that more transportation leads to more emissions, so you want to reduce the distance your food has to travel to get to you.

And certainly, if you can eat local, that’s great. But it’s not the most effective way to reduce your food’s carbon footprint.

The website Our World in Data recently explained, with some great charts, why your focus should really be elsewhere.

“Eating locally would only have a significant impact if transport was responsible for a large share of food’s final carbon footprint. For most foods, this is not the case,” writes Hannah Ritchie. “Emissions from transportation make up a very small amount of the emissions from food and what you eat is far more important than where your food traveled from.”

Take a look at the chart below, which examines 29 different food products, from beef to nuts, and breaks down how much greenhouse gas emissions each stage in the supply chain is responsible for. The data comes from the biggest meta-analysis of worldwide food systems we’ve got so far, published in Science in 2018.

As you can see, the share of emissions from transport (shown in red) is generally pretty tiny; the distance our food travels to get to us actually accounts for less than 10 percent of most food products’ carbon footprint. Processes on farms (shown in brown) and changes in land use (shown in green) typically account for much more of the emissions from our food.

Translation: What you eat is much more important than whether your food is local.

So, next time you find yourself trying to choose between a couple of different dinner options — local prawns versus non-local fish, let’s say — remember that from an emissions standpoint, the fish is the better choice even though it comes from farther away.

One caveat: Although transport has a small climate impact for most food products, that’s not true for products that travel by air. Now, very few products actually fall into that category — just 0.16 percent of food is air-freighted, while the vast majority travels by boat (including those beloved avocados). But it’s worth noting which products do travel by air, and avoiding them when they’re not in season, since air travel is so bad for the climate.

It can be hard to know which products in your grocery store are air-freighted, since they’re almost never labeled as such. But a good rule of thumb is to avoid fresh fruits and vegetables that have a short shelf-life and that come from far away (check the label for their country of origin). Berries, green beans, and asparagus are examples of foods that are often air-freighted. Locally sourced berries, green beans, and asparagus, though, have a low carbon footprint.

What about “sustainable meat” versus plant-based foods?

At this point, you might be wondering where plant-based foods fit into all this. With so many grocery stores and restaurants now selling Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, it’s reasonable Some have argued that you can have a lower footprint if you eat beef or lamb sourced from low-impact producers than if you switch to plant-based alternatives. But the evidence suggests that’s just not true.

“Plant-based foods emit fewer greenhouse gases than meat and dairy, regardless of how they are produced,” Ritchie writes.

Here’s another chart, which shows that less meat is nearly always better than sustainable meat when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint. The data comes from the same 2018 meta-analysis mentioned above, which considered the food systems in 119 countries.

to wonder about the carbon footprint of products made from protein sources other than meat.

As you can see, beef and lamb are way over on one extreme in terms of the amount of emissions they produce. By contrast, plant-based protein sources like tofu, beans, peas, and nuts have a very low carbon footprint.

“This is certainly true when you compare average emissions. But it’s still true when you compare the extremes: there’s not much overlap in emissions between the worst producers of plant proteins, and the best producers of meat and dairy,” Ritc
Stacy Smedley/Skanska
Achieving Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Targets through Life Cycle Carbon Accounting

Climate change is the existential crisis of our time. The design and construction industry has responded to this challenge with a wave of green buildings that have reshaped expectations for environmental performance of the built environment, striving to meet increasingly stringent energy codes, rating systems, and greenhouse gas reduction targets. However, we are only solving the problems that we are looking at, and we are not seeing the whole picture. The substantial up-front carbon emissions associated with the production of building materials and construction have gone largely uncounted, as have those associated with demolition—but they are no less real and just as significant. New, high-performance buildings are designed to reduce emissions over the life of a building, but when will that payoff occur? Thirty years from construction? Fifty? Unfortunately, we cannot wait fifty or even twenty years for our new, efficient buildings to save us. Design and construction practices must be dramatically and immediately reshaped to drive down emissions associated with all stages of a building’s life—including materials, construction, and demolition—in order to meet critical global climate goals.

The Urgent Need to Reduce the Life Cycle Carbon Footprint of Buildings

The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement established the necessity of capping global temperature rise to well below 2° Celsius, setting the target at 1.5°. In order to achieve that target, the world needs to get to net zero carbon emissions by the year 2050. According to the 2018 UN Environment Emissions Gap Report, we are not on track to meet this goal [i]. In fact, we must now reduce global emission by 50% by the year 2030 to have even a 50% chance of meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement [ii].

At a global scale, building construction and operations account for approximately 39% of carbon dioxide emissions annually [iii]. We are also projected to build an astounding 2.5 trillion square feet of new construction globally by the year 2060 [iv], roughly doubling the current square footage of existing buildings. This is an extraordinary figure, and it means that building owners and professionals in the construction sector have a substantial opportunity and responsibility to reduce building-related carbon emissions to respond to the climate crisis.

The paradigm of sustainable design has for decades focused on reducing operational energy, with ultimate goals of net zero or even net positive carbon. This approach has driven energy reduction goals in codes, rating systems, and even carbon mitigation plans. While reducing operational carbon is a critical component to driving down carbon emissions in the built environment, “net zero” used in this context is a misnomer. The definition of net zero in the United States only includes the carbon emissions associated with the use phase of the building, also known as operational carbon, while excluding emissions associated with all other stages of a building’s life cycle, such as up-front carbon emitted during the production of materials and building construction, also referred to as embodied carbon, and emissions associated with end-of-life.

While we have made strides in reducing the operational energy of buildings, with an average global reduction of 1.5% annually [v], the impacts of embodied carbon have been overlooked. These embodied impacts were for many years thought to be negligible; however, it has become increasingly apparent that they are not insignificant. Embodied carbon contributes at least 11% of all global carbon emissions annually—and this percentage is increasing. In fact, projections made by the nonprofit research organization Architecture 2030 show that by the year 2030, embodied emissions will account for 74% of total emissions from all buildings constructed after 2020. As buildings meet higher performance standards and the grid becomes greener, operational carbon will continue to decrease, and embodied carbon will represent an increasingly large percentage of total life cycle emissions.

Because sustainable design practices have responded to what our industry has measured to-date—operational carbon—our industry has primarily focused on new, high-performance construction. This has reinforced the misconception that new buildings are good for the environment while existing buildings are energy hogs that should be demolished and
An urbanizing world has put commercial real estate practices in the spotlight. Gensler’s Co-CEO’s Diane Hoskins and Andy Cohen discuss the ways the industry can lessen its climatic stress.

Mass urbanization and commercial real estate’s climate impact demand strong action by designers, urban planners and architects, developers and legislators around the world. It’s also a subject that Gensler has taken very seriously: the Gensler Cities Climate Challenge (GC3) outlines the firm’s commitment to design all their projects to net-zero standards by 2030; and addressed it in their recently released Design Forecast “Shaping the Future of Cities.” Diane Hoskins and Andy Cohen, Co-CEOs at the leading global design firm, spoke to GlobeSt.com about the real estate industry’s most urgent climatic challenges and how CRE stakeholders are responding.

GlobeSt.com: How has CRE’s climate impact changed and how much will that burden expand in the future?

Diane Hoskins: The growth of cities creates so much more of a need to focus on buildings, which account for 40 percent of CO2 emissions in cities. Cities overall create 70 percent of CO2 emissions even though they’re only 2 percent of the world’s land mass. Since 1990, we’ve seen a 70 percent increase in the number of people living in cities (to 3.8 billion). That obviously means more CRE in our cities and thus more CO2 emissions.

Andy Cohen: We are adding about 1.5 million people to cities every week for the foreseeable future, and 80% of the world’s GDP is in cities. More than half of the global population is now concentrated in urban areas, and by 2060 two thirds of the expected population of 10 billion will live in cities. The way we design, build and operate new buildings, and how we reposition existing buildings to be more efficient are critical factors in our global efforts to address climate change and the effects of climate change.

GlobeSt.com: What are the biggest climate concerns and how can cities be more resilient in response?

Cohen: Cities are at the forefront of these issues, dealing with the real-time impacts of weather events, rising sea levels, migration, and resource scarcity. Ninety percent of the world’s urban areas are on coastlines, so they are increasingly at risk. Working together, governments, institutions, and investors can anchor city planning in resilience to produce tangible, positive impacts on people’s lives, jobs, health and well-being.

Hoskins: A multi-pronged effort regarding material choices, building retrofits and new construction standards is required. For existing buildings, how we upgrade systems and the building envelope from both a thermal and energy-generation standpoint is critical, using new types of glass and even brick and other types of veneers that sequester carbon.

GlobeSt.com: What impact is climate change having on the real estate investment sector?

Hoskins: At the 2019 ULI Fall Conference, one of the panelists talked about increasing coastal risk from rising seas. The investment sector in coastal US markets is really beginning to sound the alarm and take a harder look at the 10-, 20- and 30-year time horizon with regard to the risk and resilience of locations. We’re in the mode now of resilience thinking versus prevention. For example, in Miami it’s not about trying to stop sea level rise, but rather adapting to changing conditions. This includes having walkways at the second level and having entries that may be on the ground level but that are built with materials that can withstand the water. And in order to ensure that there isn’t a cataclysmic level of warming and flooding, it’s critical to address greenhouse gas emissions through building sector choices. Going to net zero can help keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius from now until 2050.

GlobeSt.com: What are the biggest CRE challenges to meeting and exceeding net zero carbon standards?

Cohen: We need to address everything from operational energy and the materials we choose, to how people travel and where we decide to build. We need our cities and governments to set goals in their cities and then take concrete steps to achieve them. We need investment from the private sector to assist with the gap in resilient design and high-performance measures, because the returns on these investments take time. And we need our cities to create densified zoning to encourage green development. We need all parties involved in development to design for zero carbon starting now and as desig
Steven Bingler is a New Orleans-based architect and planner and founder of Common Edge Collaborative, a nonprofit organization that advocates planning and design engagement with the public. Martin C. Pedersen is executive director of the organization.

Hundred-year floods. Record-breaking Antarctic heat. Wildfires and drought. The stories appear with numbing regularity. And though the details differ, they all point to the same grim conclusion. We’re failing to address climate change. With carbon emissions continuing to rise, what were once dismissed as worst-case scenarios now look like the best we can hope for.

If Plan A was to prevent, or at least mitigate, the most serious impacts of climate change, what’s Plan B?

In our Plan-A world, architecture and planning has become focused on the idea of “resilient” design. But continuing to talk about “resilience” in the face of ever-worsening projections is its own form of climate denial. It’s time for planners to begin replacing the R-word of the moment with a now not-so-unthinkable one.


According to a recent paper in the scientific journal Nature Communications, some of the earlier projections of population displacement from sea-level rise are probably way too low. Around the world, instead of some 50 million people being forced to move to higher ground over the next 30 years, the oceans will likely rise higher than predicted, with a coastal diaspora at least three times larger; by 2100, the number of climate refugees could surpass 300 million. Indeed, sea-level rise looks likely to be measured in yards and meters, not inches or feet.

Where will all of these displaced people go? Can they be accommodated in existing cities, towns and villages? Which cities will we defend? Which will we surrender? Who will decide? These are unprecedented design and planning challenges that our society hasn’t begun to think about, let alone plan for. Given the increasingly dire outlook, we believe it is time to start.

In recent years, we’ve seen countless climate-resiliency schemes featuring bioswales, rain gardens, retention ponds, earth berms, levees, sea-wall barriers, even oyster beds. All of these strategies are useful, but they come with a big “if.” They will help protect our coastal cities if we also cut our carbon emissions in time to mitigate even worse impacts of climate change.

Both of us live in New Orleans, a city that is below sea level but that is not at all inclined to give up. But for the sake of future generations, we need to honestly assess the threats ahead and plan accordingly. Planners are expected to operate within multiple time frames, and the challenge today is even trickier. We must continue to wage the political fight to rein in and eventually eliminate fossil fuels, while at the same time remaining clear-eyed about what needs to happen should our best efforts fail. Doing both is the only responsible course of action.

It is not overly alarmist to start thinking about exit strategies that work under the most severe scenarios. Moving existing cities, retrofitting old ones for explosive growth, creating new settlements and mitigating thousands of miles of polluted shorelines will be expensive and complicated. Even if properly planned, this will be a messy and even brutal process; if unplanned and ad hoc, in all likelihood, it will descend into a chaos straight out of science fiction.

Steven’s firm, Concordia, led the politically and emotionally charged planning process in post-Katrina New Orleans, a city with a pre-storm population of 485,000. (Today, that number stands at about 390,000.) That was certainly a difficult and unprecedented effort, but it was nothing compared to the simultaneous challenges facing coastal towns and cities in the decades ahead. And our problems don’t stop at the water’s edge. Many places inland will see water become increasingly scarce, putting immense stress on settlement patterns and agriculture. Mass migrations will inevitably become a part of our children’s and grandchildren’s futures.

Sadly, few of our politicians will “go there” yet, because their planning for the future extends precisely as far as the next election. It’s time for architects and planners to sound the alarm. Time, in other words, to get real.

The irony is that as we dawdle, energy and insurance companies, along with
The Architecture Lobby
The relationship between the business of architecture and the nature of architectural work is fraught. Many celebrated firms have been built on the backs of young and often unpaid labor. To call this practice an open secret would be inaccurate. It isn’t a secret at all; for some firms, it’s standard operating practice.

The Architecture Lobby, founded in 2013 by Peggy Deamer, has begun the long and laborious process of addressing these issues. Today, the group has 16 chapters and 450 dues-paying members. (Yearly dues amount to 0.2% of total income, or about $100 for a $50,000 salary.) Recently, I spoke with the Lobby’s national organizer, Dexter Walcott, about the group’s recent efforts, its campaign to unionize the field, the Green New Deal, and the future of work.

MCP: Martin C. Pedersen
DW: Dexter Walcott

MCP: What’s the Lobby working on right now?

DW: The top three initiatives are the unionization campaign, the socializing of small firms, and the Green New Deal campaign. We’re also working to expand the “Not Our Wall” campaign to focus on the detention infrastructure, beyond the physical barriers and surveillance infrastructures.

MCP: So there are both national and local Lobby initiatives?

DW: Yes. There are chapters that are working on issues that are purely local. And then some chapters blur a lot, where there will be a national campaign that has a strong presence in our regional chapters. The “Not Our Wall” campaign, for instance, had a strong presence in the California chapters. The Green New Deal is a national campaign, but the New York chapter has a very strong presence with that.

MCP: Let’s pull a few of these issues out for closer examination, starting with union recognition. What’s your goal here, and how do you see that playing out?

DW: The end goal is to form unions of architectural workers. There are a number of ways that it can play out. One type of union we organize would be a single-issue union, where we would begin to organize architectural workers around a single problem within the profession and organize workplaces to form collective bargaining units around that issue. For instance, something like the eight-hour workday would be appealing in the profession. That covers a lot of the issues with one broad stroke, whether it’s the culture of overwork or the inability of people to have time to take care of themselves or their families outside of the profession. We could organize workplaces under a contract that only has one clause in it that would say, “We’re going to work for eight hours, five days a week.” That’s something that is appealing to the Architectural Lobby at the moment. And it’s so necessary in the profession right now.

MCP: Is your goal to go through the actual process of becoming a legally recognized union?

DW: Not necessarily. We’re more interested in helping workers build collective bargaining units. At the end of the day, the Lobby isn’t so concerned about being the legal entity. We want to see the sector have unions. The unionization working group has put together an amazing pamphlet on the steps to do this.

MCP: So some chapters might, ultimately, be purely local?

DW: Yes. Right now we’re organizing ourselves and trying to understand where the organization has power, and where we can leverage that power. It starts with a belief that we need to get tight around an argument, if we’re going to start organizing other people to commit to it. We don’t want to build an organization that just brings together like-minded people. We must become good at winning contentious arguments. You can’t organize a workplace by assuming, “Oh, everyone who already thinks like me will automatically join my group.” You have to engage in discussions with people who say, “I don’t think unions are going to help our industry”; or ask questions like, “Will that cut my pay?”; or say, “My boss is really good to me right now.”

It’s also important to have conversations with people about preserving things that are good about the profession. We need to reinforce the idea that unions aren’t just for times when everything’s falling apart, but are a way to ensure that things stay great and can get better. But the Lobby’s core position is
Grant Hindsley for The New York Times
When Berkeley, Calif., became the first city in the country to ban natural gas hookups in new construction last July, no one knew the effects would ripple out so far and so fast.

The Berkeley ban was part of an effort to wean developers off buildings that consume fossil fuels, a cause of global warming, and promote cleaner electric power. And it spurred other communities in the state to enact ordinances to encourage all-electric construction.

The effort has spread to other parts of the country. The Massachusetts town of Brookline passed a prohibition on new gas connections, and municipalities near it are poised to do the same.

Now major cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, are in various stages of considering pro-electric legislation as part of the “electrify everything” movement.

As interest quickly blossoms, real estate and construction industries are scrambling to keep up. Some national organizations that represent builders and developers have yet to formulate a position.

Their members are not of one mind, however. Some developers and builders are already heading down the all-electric path in an effort to meet their own goals for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, even if not legally required to do so. But others are balking at the fast rollout, saying they want to retain the option of using gas or simply believe the new rules are being put into action too quickly.

“Builders call up asking: ‘Is this legal? What are the costs? What do I have to do?’” said Robert Raymer, technical director of the California Building Industry Association, a trade group with 3,100 members.

And for residential developers, there’s the question of whether the homes they build will appeal to buyers if they are not equipped with gas stoves. In the Southeast, nearly 45 percent of homes use only electricity, according to the federal Energy Information Administration, so people there are accustomed to electric stoves. But in many parts of the country, Americans have a choice, and more of them prefer cooking with gas, according to recent data from the National Multifamily Housing Council.

“It’s a major sticking point,” said Aaron Fairchild, the chief executive of Green Canopy, which installs induction stoves, which are high-tech ranges that use magnetic waves for cooking, in the all-electric houses it builds in Seattle and Portland, Ore. Mr. Fairchild has hired chefs to do cooking demonstrations at open houses to introduce the appliances.

The emergence of legislation that bans natural gas hookups or promotes all-electric construction is not hard to understand. In the absence of a federal commitment to addressing climate change, states and local communities have adopted their own carbon goals, which often cannot be reached unless emissions decline in the building sector.

Globally, buildings generate nearly 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, but in densely developed American cities, the rate can be substantially higher.

For years, natural gas has been promoted as a cleaner alternative to coal-fired electricity, and its use has surged. But carbon emissions from natural gas use have also grown.

The Global Carbon Project, a climate science group, estimates that carbon dioxide emissions added nearly 37 billion metric tons of emissions to the atmosphere last year, driven by increased use of oil and natural gas.

Experts say gas must be phased out and electric power increased in development, especially now that the electric power system, known as the grid, is becoming cleaner, thanks to the addition of renewable energy such as wind and solar power.

Kate Harrison, the councilwoman who introduced the Berkeley ban, said that dozens of public officials from around the country had contacted her for advice about how to enact similar legislation.

The 22 other California cities and counties that followed Berkeley’s lead, including San Jose, the country’s 10th-largest city, have done so with building codes that encourage electric wiring and appliances rather than ban gas outright.

Brookline’s ban, which applies to new construction and gut renovations but makes some exemptions for buildings like research laboratories, awaits review by the Massachusetts attorney general before it can become law.

In nearby Cambridge, Mass., city officials have already held hearin
It has been a banner year for Kate Simonen and her burgeoning band of embodied carbon busters, bent on reducing the negative environmental impacts of building production. On Nov. 19, Simonen and her EC-reduction champions debuted the first free-to-use digital tool to calculate EC in materials. The same day, Marin County, Calif., approved the nation’s first low-carbon concrete building code. And after a slow start in 2017, the free-to-join Embodied Carbon Network finally gained traction.

As founding director of the decade-old Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF) at the University of Washington, Simonen has been stirring all three pots. “Kate is our figurehead,” says Wil V. Srubar, a professor of engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder and an ECN co-chair with Simonen and Erin McDade, senior program director of Architecture 2030. “It’s been a wild ride the last 12 months, and Kate has been a great driver,” he adds.

EC, the sum total of greenhouse gases emitted from material extraction to the jobsite, “is an entry point to acknowledge that we need to completely decarbonize” the buildings sector—not just operational carbon, says engineer-architect-researcher Simonen, also a professor in the university’s department of architecture.

Perhaps Simonen’s biggest EC-reduction coup is the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator. “EC3 is transformative,” says Ari Frankel, assistant vice president at Alexandria Real Estate Equities, one of six developers piloting EC3.

CLF incubated EC3 through a $713,000 grant from the Charles Pankow Foundation and other sponsors. Simonen is lead investigator, with teammates Phil Northcott, Change Labs CEO; Stacy Smedley, a director of sustainability for Skanska USA; and Don Davies, president of Magnusson Klemencic Associates.

While incubating EC3, Simonen also helped create Marin County’s low-carbon concrete code—spearheaded by Top 25 Newsmaker Bruce King—by leading its steering committee. She was “instrumental” in creating consensus among diverse stakeholders, says Alice Zanmiller, a planner for Marin County’s sustainability team.

In 2017, CLF created ECN to scale up the movement. A global and virtual communication platform for practitioners, educators, government officials and material producers, ECN is driving grass-roots change, including local policy initiatives.

Last year, the group grew from 600 to 1,800 members, located in 166 cities in 22 nations. Local chapters that hold in-person workshops sprang up in Seattle, the Bay Area, New York City, Boston and Vancouver, B.C. Chapter discussions are underway in Austin, Atlanta, Toronto and the Denver-Boulder area.

A native of Livermore, Calif., Simonen studied architectural engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder and then received two master’s degrees from the University of California, Berkeley—one in structural engineering and the mechanics of materials in 1991, and the other in architecture the following year.

While in practice, Simonen learned about using fly ash to lower concrete’s cement content. Later, she tried calculating the carbon footprint of green prefab homes imported from China. Eventually, she realized she was interested in research. In 2009, she landed at the university. Soon she had mastered environmental-impact life-cycle analyses for buildings.

Funded by its 42 member firms, CLF is “informing, inspiring and enabling” buildings professionals to reduce and ultimately eliminate EC. Currently, CLF is rallying green-building groups to collaborate and reduce duplicate efforts.

Even with EC-reduction progress, Simonen doesn’t expect to see any meaningful impact on the environment for at least 10 years. Still, she soldiers on, saying, “we have to try to make a difference.”
Manim8/Blendswap, TheStranger/Blendswap
And no amount of data or complex modeling will rectify the building industry’s staggering impact on the environment. Design culture itself needs to change.

For the past eight years, I’ve spent every day of my professional life enabling an industry that is responsible for nearly 40% of global climate emissions. I don’t work for an oil or gas company. I don’t work for an airline. I’m an architect.

The environmental impacts of the built environment are staggering. Although it’s become mainstream to discuss energy efficiency and advocate for minimizing those impacts, architects, engineers, and planners have yet to truly reckon with the magnitude and consequences of everyday design decisions. Not only do we burn fossil fuels to heat and cool most buildings, but construction itself is responsible for plenty of global emissions. Construction requires massive amounts of concrete, steel, aluminum, and glass—all of which are carbon-intensive materials. Their emissions extend up and down the supply chain, crossing property boundaries, economic sectors, and markets. While architects are not fully responsible for steel manufacturing or concrete production per se, there is a direct line from the material specifications that architects write to the steel mills of China, the coal mines of Appalachia, the brick kilns of India, or clear-cut forests in the Pacific Northwest or the Amazon.

It is time for the design community to come to terms with carbon and climate change—both the reality of our shared climate emergency and the very personal implications of the building industry’s role in perpetuating it. Only then can we do the hard work of connecting our climate concern with our day-to-day actions, transforming guilt into collective change.

Broadly speaking, there are two ways of measuring the emissions caused by buildings: operational carbon (the emissions associated with energy used to operate a building) and embodied carbon (the emissions associated with materials and construction processes throughout the whole life cycle of a building).

Programs such as LEED, Passive House, and the Living Building Challenge focus on decreasing the former—operational carbon. This is a laudable goal; after all, building operations account for 28% of global carbon emissions, and improving the energy efficiency of buildings through widespread electrification and through decarbonization of the energy grid is essential.

However, we’ve come to recognize that it is not enough for architects and engineers to focus solely on operational carbon. For decades, we have been ignoring the role of embodied emissions in global carbon budgets.

Embodied carbon from building materials and construction currently represents at least 11% of global carbon emissions, much of which can be attributed to just three materials: concrete, iron, and steel. However, that seemingly small slice of the full carbon pie can be misleading. Global construction is proceeding at an incredible pace—with roughly 6.13 billion square feet of construction each year and global building stock expected to double in the next 30 years. When we look at new buildings anticipated to be built between now and 2050, embodied carbon, also known as “upfront carbon” because it is released before a building is even occupied, is projected to account for nearly half of total new construction emissions. For practicing architects, engineers, policymakers, and anyone who cares about climate strategy, this should give us pause.

In 2018, a special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), called Global Warming of 1.5 ºC, asked two pressing questions: How can the global community reach the 1.5ºC target laid out by the Paris Agreement, and what happens if we fail? The report has two major takeaways. First, it is still possible to meet our climate targets, but only with immediate and unprecedented action. Second, the world presented if we fail to meet this target, by even a modest-sounding half-degree, are bleak—widespread ecosystem destruction, financial instability, growing social inequity, conflict and unrest, the disappearance of landmasses and nations. The scenarios are so clearly articulated, the models so robust, and the science so well documented, that they have ignited new urgency to find pathways across all sectors to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement and accelerate our progress towards a 1.5ºC pathway. Unfortunately, we are nowhere near meeting these targets. Last week, the UN Environment Program issued its annual
Mayors across the world say we all need to consider how urban planning and climate intersect with well-being.

Looking back on it, 2019 was the year the “climate emergency” was declared, and while many countries have responded to the call, the movement to put out the fire has, in many ways, been led by cities. Over 1,200 local governments around the world have now signed the Climate Emergency Declaration. And in October, many of the world’s most influential mayors announced their support for a global Green New Deal. These mayors are members of C40, a network of 94 large cities—Paris, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Lagos, to name a few—committed to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels and reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030.

That declaration didn’t just reaffirm these cities’ efforts to fight climate change. It placed social and economic justice at the heart of that work, pledging to help alleviate poverty and calling for an inclusive and “just” transition for the populations most affected by climate change.

This was a nonbinding statement but nonetheless reflective of a profound shift in the urban narrative around climate change that no longer sees environmental sustainability as disconnected from human rights. “The mayors of the 94 most influential cities in the world are increasingly seeing climate and equity issues as connected," says David Miller, C40’s North America director. While action is to a large degree dependent on national policies, cities can do plenty. By implementing low-carbon measures, they could cut urban emissions in key sectors by almost 90 percent by 2050, according to the Coalition for Urban Transitions.

Of the 184 countries that have published climate goals tied to their participation in the Paris Agreement, only 20 percent have been deemed sufficient to reach the 1.5 degree target, according to a report from the Universal Ecological Fund. By contrast, C40 cities have drafted climate action plans that are as ambitious, if not more so, than the accord’s targets. Copenhagen is working to become the world’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025. New York City aims to reduce its emissions by 80 percent in the next 30 years. Toronto wants all vehicles riding within its city limits to use low-carbon energy by 2050.

Oakland, California, has drafted an Energy and Climate Action Plan that includes some of the country’s most ambitious goals—a 36 percent greenhouse gas reduction from 2005 levels by 2020 and an 83 percent reduction by 2050—by engaging grassroots groups and reaching out to the communities most affected by emissions coming from freeways, ports, airports, and rail yards. The city now evaluates the impact of each sustainability initiative on vulnerable communities, as interventions that seek to improve transport infrastructure tend to drive up housing prices and can lead to displacement.

By engaging local groups in this way, municipalities can shape climate plans that are rooted in the needs of communities and therefore are more likely to succeed. It gives residents a say in decisions that will affect generations to come. It’s also a departure from the narrative around climate change, which has centered on fear for decades, and from the traditional top-down approach to urban planning. “We've spent, collectively, a really significant amount of time telling people what to be worried about, but we haven't spent enough time talking about the kind of future people want,” Miller says.

But while large cities like Oakland and LA can launch ambitious climate action plans, smaller municipalities struggle to access the resources they need to meet their carbon emission goals. And regardless of their size, most cities are limited in what they can achieve. That’s because national governments hold control over much of the policies and funding that affect city planning. They shape energy policy, provide funding for transportation infrastructure, and influence housing affordability through tax incentives and funding for social housing. Promoting the use of electric vehicles is one thing, but residents must be able to tap into a stable, affordable supply of electricity, which usually doesn’t fall under a city’s remit. “There are many great things that cities can do on their own,” Lazer says. "But if cities and national governments collaborate, it really opens up the full potential to make urban transportation more sustainable
Climate Reality
o its great credit, the American Institute of Architects recently denounced the Trump administration’s decision to formally withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. This may put the professional organization on the right side of history, but it’s unlikely to sway any hardened hearts and minds in Washington. Obviously, the executive branch is worse than useless on this issue: not just an impediment to change, but a malevolent force for willful inaction. It’s hard to see it as anything less than an enemy of the climate.

Until this odious cast of characters in changes, climate activists must turn their attention elsewhere. Fortunately there’s an under-the-radar lobbying effort underway in California, by the AIA’s state chapter, that holds the potential to totally transform the building sector. In July, the organization’s Committee on the Environment, in collaboration with Edward Mazria of Architecture 2030, persuaded the California’s AIA’s governing board to support the adoption of a statewide Zero Code as soon as possible. The organization sent a letter to the governor in September, co-signed by leading firms, virtually all of the local chapters, as well as the cities of Berkeley, Santa Monica, Fremont, San Luis Obispo, and Culver City.

Green buildings in California would no longer be about rewarding good intentions or being less bad, no longer be about commemorative plaques or LEED ratings. Emissions-free buildings would be required by law.

If enacted, a Zero Code would essentially mandate emissions-free new buildings almost immediately. (Architecture 2030 defines a Zero Net Carbon building as “a highly energy efficient building that produces on-site, or procures, enough carbon-free renewable energy to meet building operations energy consumption annually.”) Green buildings in California would no longer be about rewarding good intentions or being less bad, no longer be about commemorative plaques or LEED ratings.

Emissions-free buildings would be required by law.

Before we go any further, though, the logical question to ask is the obvious one: Is this even possible? Is it politically feasible? For all of the well-meaning rhetoric swirling around the idea of a Green New Deal, none of it can even begin to happen without fundamental changes in policy, primarily at the state and local level. In California, the adoption of a Zero Code is largely dependent on the strong support of Governor Gavin Newsom, who has not weighed in on the issue.

Mazria initially approached the California AIA with a bolder approach, pushing the idea of an immediate Zero Code adoption via executive order, presumably the fastest route possible. As it turns out, this isn’t an option in California, where energy codes for buildings must be vetted and approved by the California Energy Commission. (The next overhaul will occur in 2022.) The governor, however, exerts a fair amount of control over that body. In two years, Governor Newsom will have either appointed or reappointed a majority of the commissioners on the five-member governing board. If he truly wanted to kick start the Green New Deal, putting his political muscle behind adoption of the Zero Code would be a monumental first step.

In the meantime, AIA California is working on several fronts, pushing and pulling at three different levers of power. “We’re organizing opportunities to enlist Governor Newsom’s active support,” says San Francisco architect William Leddy, who with Mazria helped convince the chapter to support adoption of the clean code. “Thanks to Michael Malinowski, the AIA’s government liaison, we’ve also discovered that there’s an avenue that might be much easier to attempt right now. And that’s to introduce the Zero Code immediately as a ‘reach code’ within CALGreen, which is the California Green Building Standard. We believe this approach doesn’t require the energy commission process. It would give cities around the state the option to adopt the Zero Code now, while we continue to pursue formal statewide adoption through the lengthy code-revision process.”

The reason these considerations are even possible is why Mazria approached the California AIA in the first place. Despite the apocalyptic fires, the rolling blackouts, the somewhat predictable this-is-the-end-of-California-as-we-know-it pronouncements, the state is well under way in its eventual transitio
There was no formal agenda on Feb. 12, 2018, when Bruce King and William Kelley met for lunch at the Lotus Cafe in San Rafael, Calif. But building regulation is a favorite topic of King’s, a structural engineer devoted to reducing carbon emissions related to buildings. So it was no surprise to Kelley, Marin County’s deputy director for building and safety, that King suggested it would “be nice” to craft a low-carbon concrete building code “to rein in the profligate overuse” of carbon-intensive cement in concrete.

Kelley liked the idea of regulating concrete’s embodied carbon (EC)—the greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted during production. But funding was needed to support the writing of a code for low-EC concrete.

Two weeks later, King happened to be at a meeting of an ad hoc group trying to rebuild sustainably after California’s devastating 2017 wine-country fires. There, he heard an announcement that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District would soon offer grants for novel methods of addressing GHGs. He alerted Kelley. Soon, Marin County applied for a BAAQMD grant, which it received on Oct. 4, 2018.

The funds, a maximum of $206,456, set the wheels in motion for developing the model Bay Area Low-Carbon Concrete Code. If approved by Marin County’s board of supervisors on Nov. 19, the code, unprecedented in the U.S. because it would limit EC in private—not just public—projects, would be the first of its kind in the nation.

Kelley likes the Bay Area model code because it is simple to use for customers, plan checkers and enforcers. The document, only four pages long, has two sets of compliance pathways for plain and reinforced concrete: 1) limit cement in either the mix or the project; or 2) limit the global warming potential (GWP) either of a concrete mix—based on an approved environmental product declaration (EPD)—or a project, taking into account all the mix designs.

If adopted, the code would apply only to unincorporated Marin County, population 60,000. That doesn’t bother King. “We hope it will be the code heard around the world,” says the founder of the 20-year-old Ecological Building Network (EBNet).

Kelley agrees, saying, “If we can do this here, the code could serve as a template for other places.” Several other Bay Area counties are likely to follow suit if Marin County adopts it, he adds.

King is setting even wider sights on the regulation of EC—the GHG emissions associated with raw material supply, manufacturing, transport, construction, maintenance, decommissioning and recycling of a material, a building or infrastructure. He wants the Bay Area code to serve as a model for other nations, especially India and China. He also wants EC codes for other high-EC products, such as most refrigerants.

EC, formerly called embodied energy, is not exactly a household term in construction. The main focus in green building codes and certification programs—such as LEED and the Living Building Challenge—has been on reducing the operational carbon (OC) emitted by buildings.

EC plus OC make up the carbon footprint of a building. Initial or up-front EC, which accounts for most of a material’s or a product’s carbon, refers to GHG emissions from the cradle to the site gate.

“Many construction materials can be made to very similar performance standards with 50% or more carbon savings,” because manufacturing process, mix composition, recycled content and electricity or energy source have a dramatic effect on carbon emitted during manufacture, according to the University of Washington’s Carbon Leadership Forum. CLF is a nonprofit coalition of 40 construction industry sponsors, founded in 2009 by its director, Kate Simonen, also a professor at the College of the Built Environments.

“Carbon-aware specification and procurement policies, backed by a contractual requirement to deliver verified EPDs for materials delivered to sites, can drive change,” asserts CLF.

Reducing initial EC is no easy task. It has been fraught with problems—from a lack of product and material data to data too complex to evaluate. “It’s an incredibly daunting and new challenge to address in a design process,” says Victoria Burrows, director of Advancing Net Zero for the World Green Building Council.

A net-zero EC building is one that has minimal up-front carbon, with all remaining
Inspired by the apocalyptic imagery from climate change projections, sculptor David Černý and architect Tomáš Císař from the studio Black n´ Arch have proposed a visually striking skyscraper that’s sparked controversy with its inclusion of an enormous shipwreck-like structure. Dubbed the TOP TOWER, the project proposed for Prague rises to a height of 450 feet, which means that if built, the tower would be the tallest building in the Czech Republic. The project is led by developer Trigema who aims to create a multifunctional, LEED Gold high-rise that includes rental apartments, a public observation area and commercial uses on the lower floors.

TOP TOWER has been proposed to be located near the metro station Nové Butovice on the new nearly one-kilometer-long pedestrian zone in Prague. This location is outside of the protected urban conservation zone and would be far enough away from the city center that it would not disrupt the historic city skyline. Taking advantage of its height, the building would offer a public observation area at the highest point of the building where visitors can enjoy a 360-degree panoramic view of Prague.

Rental housing will make up the majority of the mixed-use TOP TOWER, while offices, retail and a multifunctional cultural center will be located on the lower levels. Parking will be tucked underground. The rusty shipwreck-like sculpture integrated into the building will offer opportunities for outdoor spaces and additional landscaping.

“We have been preparing the TOP TOWER project for more than two years and the final version was preceded by eight other alternative solutions. During this time, we have collected and are still collecting suggestions from experts, state and local authorities, and of course the local public, whose representatives have already been and will continue to hold a number of participatory meetings,” says Marcel Soural, Chairman of the Board of Trigema a.s. Trigema estimates that the construction for TOP TOWER will begin in 2021 and take less than three years complete.

Scott Judy
With Miami the setting for its 2019 convention, the American Society of Civil Engineers unveiled an initial proof-of-concept vision for a sea-based “Floating City,” one of five concepts included within the association’s Future World Vision: Infrastructure Reimagined project.

The project, which ASCE established as a separate entity known as FWV Inc., represents a four-year commitment by the organization. In a report released earlier this year announcing early analysis from the effort, ASCE stated that Future World Visions “mapped out key trends and potential outcomes and analyzed a range of plausible future-based scenarios to model how society might interface with cities, infrastructure and operational systems, while also illustrating what civil engineers must do to develop solutions for the changing future.”

Using six key, long-term trends—climate change, alternative energy, high-tech construction/advanced materials, autonomous vehicles, smart cities, and policy and funding—ASCE created five Future World concepts: Mega City, Rural City, Floating City, Frozen City and Offworld City.

To Gerald Buckwalter, ASCE’s chief operating and strategy officer, the Future Worlds project is an important step for the engineering community to begin to plan for a rapidly changing world.

“There’s a convergence of some significantly disruptive trends occurring that, in combination, will probably cause more change to the engineering profession and to built infrastructure in the next 50 to 100 years than we’ve seen in over a thousand years,” Buckwalter told Engineering News-Record at the convention, held earlier this month. The effort will position ASCE to serve as a “thought leader” on this topic, he added.

ASCE hired Alex McDowell, of Experimental Design Inc., who previously served as production designer for the futuristic sci-fi film “Minority Report,” to lead the project’s conceptualizing. McDowell then led a team that incorporated input from dozens of subject-matter experts to create a digital model envisioning the detailed development of these city concepts up to 50 years into the future.

By creating five different prototypes, Buckwalter says, it’s possible to identify the implications for civil engineering that are common among all of the future scenarios.

“This will allow us to discover the durability of some of our tools and practices now, and some things that are just going to have to be different, and give us plenty of runway to figure that out” he says.

Surely hoping for considerable “runway” for long-term planning was Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez (R), who was on hand to offer a response to McDowell’s unveiling of the Floating City.

In news related to the trends of climate change and rising sea levels envisioned by ASCE’s Floating City concept, Suarez reported that the city had just one day prior passed a resolution supporting the concept of a “carbon dividend” tax on carbon-emitting entities.

Suarez cited Miami’s interactions with the Netherlands and New Orleans as examples of how the city is planning to survive rising sea levels. “It is possible to convert water from an enemy into an asset,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to seek to do as we move into this new future where climate is certainly one of the main factors that we need to plan for if we want to be here forever.”
MVRDV has unveiled designs for the Green Villa, a striking mixed-use building draped in greenery for the Dutch village of Sint-Michielsgestel. Created in collaboration with Van Boven Architecten, the four-story Green Villa will be located on the town’s southern edge and will use a grid “rack” system to host a wide variety of potted plants, bushes and trees, including the likes of forsythia, jasmine, pine and birch. The project will be a landmark project for the village and will promote sustainability with improved biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

Located on a corner lot next to the Dommel River, the 1,400-square-meter Green Villa will house a new ground-floor office space for real estate developer and client, Stein, as well as five apartments on the three floors above in addition to underground parking. The building shape relates to the existing urban fabric with its adoption of the mansard roof shape used on the neighboring buildings. A new architectural typology is also put forth with the use of a strikingly lush facade that will help the structure blend in with the nearby river, fields and trees.

“This design is a continuation of our research into ‘facade-less’ buildings and radical greening,” explained Winy Maas, founding partner of MVRDV. “The idea from the nineties of city parks as an oasis in the city is too limited. We need a radical ‘green dip’: as will be shown soon in a book by The Why Factory with the same title, we should also cover roofs and high-rise facades with greenery. Plants and trees can help us to offset CO2 emissions, cool our cities and promote biodiversity.”

“This design is a continuation of our research into ‘facade-less’ buildings and radical greening,” explained Winy Maas, founding partner of MVRDV. “The idea from the nineties of city parks as an oasis in the city is too limited. We need a radical ‘green dip’: as will be shown soon in a book by The Why Factory with the same title, we should also cover roofs and high-rise facades with greenery. Plants and trees can help us to offset CO2 emissions, cool our cities and promote biodiversity.”

The Green Villa will be defined by a square grid four bays wide and three bays deep, in which modules for bedrooms and living spaces will slot inside. The facade will be made up of a “rack” of shelves of varying depths to support a “three-dimensional arboretum,” and each plant will have its own nameplate with additional information. The plants will be watered year-round with a sensor-controlled irrigation system that uses recycled rainwater. Construction is scheduled to start in 2020.

PAD Studio
The Lane End House by PAD studio incorporates natural building material and sustainable solutions to increase energy-efficiency. The resulting design creates a passive home with a smaller environmental footprint and a focus on sustainability.

The exterior of the house contains balcony areas that act as solar shading for the property, complete with thoughtfully-placed openings to create a greater distribution of natural ventilation to rid the home of intense heat during the hot Summer months.

Landscape-wise, the clients wanted to incorporate a natural feel as often as possible, with large windows to connect the inhabitants with the outdoors and a functioning herb garden located on the first floor balcony. The placement of the grand windows creates natural sunlight to light the home during the day while incorporating more profound landscape views.

According to the client, “we wanted a house that was big enough to comfortably accommodate the two of us and our lifestyle – and no bigger. For us that meant carefully considered, flexible, multipurpose spaces that created a sense of space whilst retaining a modest footprint.”

High quality, insulated timber wood used to create the frame both reduces the need for artificial cooling and heating in the home, and provides an eco-friendly alternative to traditional (and heavy carbon emission-inducing) building materials. Additionally, the timber is locally-produced from renewable sources and the brick used to make the fireplace is hand-made by local vendors. On the ground floor, concrete was inserted to make the structure even more air-tight and regulate interior temperatures even further.

The builders installed a MVHR system designed to recycle heat produced from the kitchen and bathroom and mix it with clean air circulated through the ventilation and naturally colder areas of the house.

In addition to completing the standard methods such as SAP calculations and EPS ratings, the impressive home was also built to Passive House ideology.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and Informa Connect announced that Former President Barack Obama will speak at the Wednesday keynote of the 2019 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo. This year’s conference will take place Nov. 19-22 in Atlanta, Ga. at the LEED Gold Georgia World Congress Center. Registration is now open.

“USGBC is deeply honored that President Obama has accepted our invitation to speak at Greenbuild 2019,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, President and CEO, USGBC. “President Obama is a global leader and a longtime friend of the green building community. While in office, his administration negotiated the landmark Paris Climate Accords, expanded the impact of our field and helped open the door for energy efficiency investments in both the public and private sectors. I know that when he joins us on the keynote stage in November, he will impart his ideas, passion and vision to our growing global green building family.”

Barack H. Obama is the 44th President of the United States. He took office at a moment of crisis unlike any America had seen in decades – a nation at war, a planet in peril, the American Dream itself threatened by the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression. And yet, despite all manner of political obstruction, Obama’s leadership helped rescue the economy, revitalize the American auto industry, reform the health care system to cover another 20 million Americans, and put the country on a firm course to a clean energy future – all while overseeing the longest stretch of job creation in American history.

“As the green building movement evolves and continues to permeate our everyday lives, President Obama is a valuable leader to bring that vision to life,” said Andrew Mullins, CEO, Informa Connect. “His commitment to unite humanity in combating a changing climate is a great example to follow. At the 2019 event, our attendees, exhibitors, and all participants of Greenbuild will be celebrating the notion that every human, regardless of circumstances, deserves to live a long and healthy life. There is no better voice or embodiment of that than President Obama.”

Previous Greenbuild keynote speakers have included Ret. Gen. Colin Powell, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, famed architect Bjarke Ingles, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, human rights activist Amal Clooney, former Vice President and climate activist Al Gore, and many others.

Greenbuild, the largest green building conference and expo in the world, is produced by Informa Connect and presented by USGBC. Greenbuild 2019 features four days of networking, educational sessions, green building tours, keynote events, and a robust expo floor.

For more information and to register for Greenbuild, visit greenbuildexpo.org, follow @Greenbuild on Twitter, and use hashtag #Greenbuild19 to join the conversation.
Sidewalk Toronto
North America is on the cusp of a mass timber revolution, and Sidewalk Labs' Waterfront Toronto project is leading the way. But the smart material faces major obstacles.

A building made primarily of wood conjures public fear of fire, but for a growing number of developers, it evokes opportunity. From constructing towering wooden condominiums, to timber college dormitories, to an entire neighborhood built from trees, experts in "mass timber" are creating buildings of the future.

Sidewalk Labs' master plan for a futuristic smart city on the waterfront in Toronto includes an entire neighborhood made of wood, called Quayside, with 10 mixed-use building up to 35 stories.

The plan is audacious, considering that in the U.S., there are only 221 mass timber buildings in the works or fully built, according to the American Wood Council​'s Kenneth Bland.

In most U.S. cities, mass timber buildings, and specifically tall mass timber buildings, are a rarity, if they exist at all.

But architects, city officials and timber advocates across North America are pushing conventional building codes and public perception because of the drastic impact these structures can have on reducing CO2 through carbon sequestration, compared to traditional concrete and steel.

"I think it's a big opportunity for a lot of cities out there ... The impact on reducing carbon emissions on earth could be dramatic," Karim Khalifa, director of buildings innovation at Sidewalk Labs, told Smart Cities Dive. "And that gets me excited."

What is mass timber?

One of the biggest obstacles for city officials is understanding the material. They are more than buildings made of wood — they're defined by their structure. Steel or concrete buildings with wood accents don't count, according to Andrew Tsay Jacobs from architecture firm Perkins and Will.

Mass timber buildings use solid wood panels to frame a building's walls, floors and roofs, creating structures that can reach at least 18 stories, as is the case with the tallest mass timber building in the world in Norway. But these buildings aren't just pure wood. Mass timber construction utilizes engineered wood, or panels glued together, and there are several types: cross-laminated (CLT), glue-laminated and dowel-laminated timber, with CLT being the most common.

While shorter wood buildings have existed for centuries, CLT panel technology is relatively new. It was developed in Europe in the 1990s, the material was only added to the international building code in 2015. Even then, all-wood buildings were capped at six stories, though that will change to allow taller structures in 2021.

Why use mass timber?

A main argument for the use of mass timber is its power to mitigate climate change. The structures can have a lifespan of hundreds of years, and contain the unique ability of effectively sequestering or removing carbon from the atmosphere, which can reverse climate change effects at a large scale.

"Now more than ever, the lens through which we view and imagine ways to redesign and build physical infrastructure, has to be based around sustainability," said Portland, OR Mayor Ted Wheeler during a speech at the International Mass Timber Conference in March.
Natural gas has worn out its welcome in buildings. That was the message from Berkeley, California, when its city council voted earlier this summer to ban gas connections to new small and mid-sized residential buildings. Instead, developers and architects will have to rely on electric appliances such as induction stovetops and heat pumps to serve those buildings, and in time they will have to do so for more projects. As written, the ban automatically expands to cover additional building types as the state certifies that they can cost-effectively forego gas.

Electrification advocates say that the city that kicked-off smoking bans in restaurants and curbside recycling in the U.S. is once again leading a movement. Several dozen California cities, including San Francisco, San Jose, and Sacramento, are racing to enact their own policies to accelerate building electrification, explains Panama Bartholomy, director of California's Building Decarbonization Coalition—an advocacy group representing electric utilities, municipalities, equipment suppliers, and designers. He says 15 to 20 towns hope to pass them within a few months so they can take effect on January 1, 2020, with the latest triennial update to California’s building code.

Similar efforts are afoot in northeastern U.S. states and in Europe, says Mike Henchen, electrification manager for the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), a Colorado-based sustainability think tank. He cites the Netherlands as a frontrunner. A plan currently making its way through parliament maps out a phased, community-by-community decommissioning of the country's gas distribution grids. Some 1.5 million homes would be disconnected by 2030.

Behind these moves are the growing number of jurisdictions setting ambitious goals for greenhouse gas emissions, as well as recent high-profile gas leaks and accidents, says Henchen. California’s climate policy calls for zero net emissions by 2045, and removing natural gas looks like the cheapest way to achieve that in the buildings sector. Heat pumps running on all but the most coal-heavy power grids are already cutting carbon and that benefit will only expand as power systems shift to solar and wind energy. The California Energy Commission’s official energy plan cites, “a growing consensus that building electrification is the most viable and predictable path to zero-emission buildings.”

RMI research published last year found that most all-electric buildings pay for themselves over the long haul, though many cost more to construct—a situation they expect to change as increased use of heat pumps drives down their cost. Seattle-based design firm Mithun says they are finding that building without gas can already be cost-neutral or cheaper to build.

Hilary Noll, a Mithun senior associate in San Francisco, says heat pumps are providing savings for five all-electric multifamily housing projects the firm has underway in the city. She says this is primarily due to federal tax credits for affordable housing tied to energy efficiency targets. Those require the addition of solar water heaters when gas boilers are used, helping trim gas consumption. Without gas, additional savings come from avoided equipment such as gas piping, meters, and combustion venting, as well as simplified fire code compliance. “There's a trickle-down effect,” says Noll, who estimates about $250,000 in savings per project.

Noll says Mithun’s clients favor all-electric design primarily as a response to heightened awareness of climate change. But they also feel they are getting a better building. In most of Mithun’s all-electric projects, these savings are being used to upgrade air filtration systems to protect residents from soot from the region’s increasingly frequent wildfires. Owners also recognize that eliminating gas today will future-proof the structures against expensive retrofits. “When you design for natural gas in a building, you’re designing for obsolescence,” says Noll.

Many California cities plan to ban gas only from new municipal buildings, while pushing private developers to go electric by mandating higher efficiency for gas-equipped buildings. Bartholomy says Los Angeles is following another model pioneered in Vancouver, British Columbia: phasing in limits on carbon emissions that will ratchet down over time.

Whatever model jurisdictions use, Bartholomy says, they will have to stop the
Alamy Stock Photo
The California city on Tuesday voted to ban natural gas hook-ups in new buildings, in a historic move

Berkeley this week became the first city in the United States to ban natural, fossil gas hook-ups in new buildings.

The landmark ordinance was passed into law on Tuesday, after being approved unanimously by the city council the previous week amid resounding public support.

Although Berkeley may be pushing the vanguard, the city is hardly alone. Governments across the US and Europe are looking at strategies to phase out gas. In California alone, dozens of cities and counties are considering eliminating fossil fuel hook-ups to power stoves and heat homes in new buildings, while California state agencies pencil out new rules and regulations that would slash emissions.

Natural gas, it seems, has become the new climate crisis frontline.

Landmark move
Berkeley’s ordinance, which goes into effect on 1 January, will ban gas hook-ups in new multi-family construction, with some allowances for first-floor retail and certain types of large structures.

The reasons behind the decision are multifold. Energy use in buildings accounts for about 25% of greenhouse gas emissions in California. If the state is to meet its goal of 100% zero-carbon energy by 2045, the gas will have to go.

For decades, gas was considered among the preferred energy sources for buildings and embraced as a bridge from dirtier fossil fuels to a green energy future.

“There’s been a lingering perception that burning gas was cleaner than electricity, which might have been true 20 years ago when electricity came from burning coal,” said Pierre Delforge, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council . “When we look at electrification policies, we need to think about what the grid will look like in 10 or 20 years, not what it looked like yesterday.”

A state energy commission report released in early 2019 concluded that building electrification was “a key strategy” for reducing the state’s climate impacts, one that “offers the most promising path to achieving [greenhouse gas] reduction targets in the least costly manner”.

Roughly 3% of all natural gas extracted by industry is leaked into the atmosphere, where methane is a far more potent, if shorter lived, greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Berkeley was also motivated to reduce health and safety risks endemic to gas appliances, which release significant emissions and pollutants indoors.

And then there’s the matter of running large amounts of flammable fuel around a state known for large earthquakes. A Pacific Gas and Electric pipeline explosion in 2010 turned a Northern California neighborhood into a smoking crater.

“We really believe we have the underpinnings of good legislation with economic, health and safety and climate impacts,” said the Berkeley councilmember Kate Harrison. “We can do this and we’ll end up a lot healthier and cleaner for it.”

As goes Berkeley, so goes California
Further decarbonizing the grid and electrifying buildings will be key to helping California meet its ambitious climate goals. In 2018, the state passed a law requiring it to derive 100% of its power from zero-carbon energy sources by 2045, and to pursue a “bold path” to get there.

Cities’ individual choices will be crucial in reaching that target. Energy is regulated at the state level, but municipalities control much of their own building codes.

“Climate-minded cities are all pulling their hair out, like, we have a climate emergency, and the national government doesn’t care. But this issue is squarely in their wheelhouse – they’ve just got to think about it in new and creative ways,” said Bruce Nilles, managing director of the Rocky Mountain Institute. “We’re dealing with an existential crisis. We’ve got to dust off all the different ways that different actors can do good, progressive, climate-minded things.”

More than 50 cities and counties in California are now considering similar policies to Berkeley’s, either banning or limiting gas and incentivizing full electrification in new buildings.

Panama Bartholomy, director of the Building Decarbonization Coalition, points to this summer as a transformative one: in order to have new ordinances in place by 1 January, municipalities will have until September to pass electrification measures. “Not all 50 are going to make it. I’m thinking a c
ricky jones, courtesy of matthew barnett howland
this house in berkshire, designed by matthew barnett howland with dido milne and oliver wilton with monolithic walls and corbelled roofs, is built almost entirely from solid load-bearing cork. currently on the shortlist for the 2019 RIBA stirling prize, the project is an attempt to make solid walls and roofs from a single bio-renewable material.

matthew barnett howland, dido milne and oliver wilton developed the house as a radically simple form, providing an innovative self-build construction kit designed for disassembly, which is carbon-negative at completion and has exceptionally low whole life carbon. with a focus on simplicity and sustainability, the project provides an inventive solution to the complexities and conventions of modern house construction, built almost entirely from a single bio-renewable material instead of an array of materials, products and specialist sub-systems. designed, tested and developed in partnership with the bartlett school of architecture UCL, the house incorporates a dry-jointed construction system, so that all 1,268 blocks of cork can be reclaimed at end-of-building-life for re-use, recycling, or returning to the biosphere.

the house is conceived as a kit-of-parts, with prefabricated components off-site and assembled by hand on-site without mortar or glue. its structural form reimagines the simple construction principles of ancient stone structures such as celtic beehive houses, while the exposed solid cork creates a sensory environment where walls are gentle to the touch, smell good, and provide soft and calm acoustic conditions.

Danish architectural firm COBE has unveiled designs for a new science museum in the Swedish university city of Lund that will be powered not only with rooftop solar energy but also with pedal power. Museum visitors will be invited to help generate electricity for the carbon-neutral museum by riding “energy bikes” on its concave roof. Constructed primarily from prefabricated cross-laminated timber, the eco-friendly building will be a sustainable landmark and help cement Lund’s position as a science city on the international stage.

Winner of an international competition, COBE’s proposal for the science museum will be located in the heart of the city’s new urban district, Science Villa Scandinavia. The museum will be sandwiched between the high-tech institutions ESS (European Spallation Source) and MAX IV, which are currently under construction and slated to become the world’s most powerful and advanced research facilities within neutron and X-ray research. The science museum’s purpose is to make the institutions’ groundbreaking research more accessible and inviting to both children and adults and to promote general interest in natural science and research.

Spanning a total floor space of 3,500 square meters, the two-story science museum will comprise exhibition halls, a gallery, a reception area, workshops, a museum shop, a restaurant, offices and an auditorium. A viewing platform and patio will top the concave 1,600-square-meter roof as will energy bikes and a solar array large enough to meet the museum’s electricity needs. A large, nature-filled atrium will sit at the heart of the museum to help absorb carbon dioxide, boost biodiversity and serve as a water reservoir and overflow canal in case of extreme rainfall. Excess heat from ESS will be used to heat the museum through an ectogrid system. The timber building is expected to reach completion by 2024.

“Ambitions for the design of the museum have been sky-high, and we feel that we have succeeded in designing a unique and inviting building, whose open atrium and concave roof lend it a dramatic and elegant profile that stands out and offers novel and innovative ways of using a museum,” said Dan Stubbergaard, architect and founder of COBE. “Moreover, we have made climate, environment and sustainability integral aspects of the process from the outset. By choosing wood as the main construction material, incorporating solar cells, using excess heat and creating an atrium with a rich biodiversity and a rainwater reservoir, among other features, we have achieved our goal and succeeded in creating a CO2-neutral building, if the design is realized as intended. Our hope, as architects, is that we can continue to increase the focus on and improve our ability to create sustainable architecture and construction for the benefit of future generations and the condition of the planet.”

Gustavo Alkmim via PITTA Arquitetura
Designed by Brazilian firm PITTA Arquitetura, the aptly named Casa Modelo serves as an architectural model for sustainable home design. Built using numerous bioclimatic principles, the solar-powered home has minimal environmental impact on its idyllic tropical setting just outside of São Paulo.

Built for the owner of a sustainable real estate development company, Casa Modelo is located in the remote area of Ubatuba. Surrounded by acres of lush, green, protected biospheres that span out to some of the country’s most beautiful beaches, the home has a setting that is as idyllic as it gets.

The incredible location set the tone for the design. Working with the homeowner, the architects sought to create a model sustainable home that could serve as a platform for future constructions in the area.

At the forefront of the design was the objective of reducing the home’s impact on the pristine natural setting. Inserting the 1,100-square-foot building into the lot with minimal interference was essential to the project. Accordingly, the timber home is elevated off of the landscape by a concrete platform and pillars that allow natural vegetation to grow under and around the structure.

The local climate is marked by severe humidity, ultra hot summers and considerable rainfall, all of which prompted the designers to create a resilient structure that could stand up to the extreme elements. Not only did elevating the home reduce its impact on the landscape, but it also helps keep ground humidity at bay and improves natural air circulation.

Passive, energy-saving features are found throughout the home, namely in the structure’s large openings and high interior ceilings. The open-plan living area and kitchen open up to the outdoors thanks to a long stretch of sliding glass doors with retractable timber screens on either side of the house. The doors can be completely or partially left open to ensure cool temps and natural ventilation on the interior, a feature that also creates a strong, seamless connection with the outdoors.

Paul Bardagiy
ant to save the planet? Quit using language like “save the planet” and talk about individual health instead. That’s the gist of the recently issued Living Standard report commissioned by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC).

Twenty-five years after the birth of LEED green building standards, the USGBC hired ClearPath Strategies, a global public opinion research company, to measure how the public sees green building. The resulting report shows a public relations problem: Even though building construction and operations account for nearly 40 percent of final global energy use and carbon dioxide emissions, most people don’t make the link between buildings and their environmental impact. This disconnect could be seen as bad news both for the design profession and for the planet. It could also be seen as an invitation to the building industry to take on a much bigger role in building a sustainable future — even if that’s not a word we use to describe it.

The Living Standard report illustrates how survey respondents ranked different concerns (health care and immigration, high; environment, middle) and potential solutions (recycling and water conservation, high; green building, way low). That survey also measured what kind of language made people feel more willing to take action. In the words of the report, “There is a real gap between the conceptual enormity of the problem and how people seek to address it in their daily lives.” Planetary health? Far too big a concept. Individual health? That’s something everyone can get behind.

The USGBC has long been concerned with public perception of green building, and rightly so. Before LEED (the now-standard acronym stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), there were few resources for people who were curious about the energy consumption, materials sourcing, or health impacts of buildings. Gail Vittori, a founding member of the USGBC and current member of the GBCI, describes how LEED and similar programs helped to develop not just a vocabulary but a way of thinking. “The value of a tool like LEED is that, as it started to have market penetration, you literally had hundreds if not thousands of teams of people sitting around a table saying, ‘What’s the VOC content in the paint?’ We take it for granted now, but in the beginning, you’d have to carve out two hours of time to get on the phone with Sherwin Williams to find someone who could begin to answer your question. How is it today that I can go into Home Depot and every single can of paint will not only tell me what the VOC content is, but most of them will be compliant with a very low VOC content? That’s market transformation.” As co-founder, with Pliny Fisk III, of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (CMPBS), Vittori works with clients to integrate sustainable strategies into large-scale building projects. She notes that she and Fisk now rarely use the words “sustainable” and “green.” “Cleaning up the jargon is what this is about. The point is that you can talk about concepts in a way that doesn’t immediately create this chasm of, ‘Oh, you’re on the inside of that topic,’ or ‘You’re on the outside of that topic.’ We all have buildings as part of our lives.”

Market transformation, while necessary, tends to be slow. Meanwhile, research suggests that we have a six-to-10-year window to make changes to avoid irreversible environmental damage. Within that time frame, the U.S. and other wealthy countries will need to get their emissions down to zero, and for that to happen, whatever we design and build now has to be a part of that reduction. In the words of climate activist Greta Thunberg, “Everything needs to change, and it has to start today.”

So where to start? LEED provides a metric for building performance, as do local building programs like the Austin Energy Green Building Program. The 2030 Palette from the Architecture 2030 Challenge, which calls for buildings and major renovations to be carbon-neutral by 2030, offers “swatches” of possible design strategies and materials. A few miles down the road from CMPBS, architect Lauren Stanley, AIA, is developing a materials palette for a new house that she and husband Lars Stanley, FAIA, plan to build following the guidelines of the Living Building Challenge (LBC). Like LEED, LBC provides a metric for building performance, but while LEED
The city is taking the threat of climate change seriously, but it may not be enough to keep the waters at bay.

Oh, Miami, America’s tropical fever dream. The city along Biscayne Bay has been half a fantasy since at least the 1950s, a raffish, pastel-colored, Art Deco, bikini-clad vision of escape. Miami Beach, the smaller island city floating just across the bay, sits at the heart of this illusion, a stroll along South Beach promising a chance to briefly escape the harder edges of daily life.

Yet these two communities built on dreams are coming to grips with a reality some of the nation continues to deny: the impact of global climate change. On a spring day so perfect it seemed like it was conjured up by the tourist bureau, Reinaldo Borges, AIA, one of the region’s earliest and most fervent advocates of the need to respond to rising sea levels, took me around downtown Miami Beach to see how the city is adapting to the new reality. We strolled down streets and sidewalks that have been raised as much as 31 inches in recent years to deal with the “sunny day” flooding that had been coming with the highest tides, water rising up through the porous limestone that forms the bedrock in Miami Beach and the larger city across the bay. “This used to be the elevation of the sidewalk,” Borges says, pointing to what is now a sunken storefront operating out of a shallow half-basement. “This building needs to be replaced,” he adds bluntly. A block or so farther down, he points approvingly to a newer Publix grocery store, which has gracefully incorporated a rise in elevation that lifts it above flood levels. “This is a good adaptation.”

Adaptation. Resiliency. Evolution. I heard these words over and over again as I met with architects, urban planners, and city officials. One thing I did not hear is denial. “Those days of denial are over, at least here in Miami Beach,” Susanne Torriente, chief resilience officer for Miami Beach, tells me.

“The debate now is not if we should do something, but what we should do,” says Elizabeth Camargo, AIA, who heads the Resilience Recovery Task Force at AIA Miami, one of two different groups the local chapter has set up to deal with climate change.

Can Miami stand its ground, and what will it look like if it does? How will the city and its built environment evolve? The answers I heard involved solutions as mundane as better storm drains and as futuristic as a platform city.

If the debate is over, it’s because the impact of climate change has already arrived in South Florida: increasingly severe storms, sunny day flooding, and rising sea levels—the ocean here has risen 8 inches since 1950, according to the nonprofit group SeaLevelRise.org. The worst lies ahead. By the end of this century, the seas breaking along the shore in Miami and Miami Beach could be as much as 81 inches higher, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Even more modest estimates predict an increase of 3 to 5 feet by 2100.

The average elevation of Miami Beach is only 4.4 feet and parts of the city are as little as 2 feet above sea level. Most of Miami has an elevation of 6 feet, but several neighborhoods have elevations of 3 feet or less. And the Miami River, of course, runs through the heart of the city all the way to the Everglades. So you have a low-lying metropolitan area of 6 million-plus people on porous soil with a major waterway tying it to an ocean that is rising more quickly every decade.

And yet people keep building and buying here. Breathtaking modernist mansions dot the water’s edge. Construction cranes hang in the downtown sky in Miami only blocks from the ocean. A word I did not hear during my visit, unless I brought it up first, was retreat. Neither Miami nor Miami Beach has zoned its low-lying or oceanside areas to prevent new construction.

Can Miami stand its ground, and what will it look like if it does? How will the city and its built environment evolve? The answers I heard involved solutions as mundane as better storm drains and as futuristic as a platform city.

“Learning to Live in a Water World”
In August 1992, after Hurricane Andrew ravaged Miami, causing billions in damage and leaving a quarter-million people homeless in Miami-Dade County alone, cities and counties in South Florida adopted some of the toughest building codes in the nation. They require buildings to be able to withstand winds up to 175 miles an hour, use shatterproof glass, and be built with
In a bid to revitalize Singapore’s Bedok Town Centre, international design firm ONG&ONG has completed HEARTBEAT@BEDOK, an award-winning, mixed-use development that serves as a key civic and community space for Bedok residents. The community building is also a beacon for sustainability and follows passive design principles to minimize energy demands as well as building operation and maintenance costs. A cooling microclimate is created with lush landscaping used throughout the site and around the building, which is draped with greenery on every floor.

Located on Singapore’s east coast, the HEARTBEAT@BEDOK was commissioned as part of the Housing and Development Board’s ‘Remaking Our Heartland’, an initiative that was announced in 2007 to ensure older towns and neighborhoods are adequately modernized to keep pace with the nation’s development. To bring new life to the area, the architects transformed a public park in the heart of the Bedok neighborhood into the site of a new community center that brings residents of different backgrounds together and cultivates community spirit.

“The Heartbeat@Bedok is an architecturally distinctive community building that is defined by the highest standards in modern sustainability,” the design firm explained. “Featuring an inverted podium-and-blocks design strategy, spaces within the new building are predicated on functionality. The elevated podium allows for optimized natural ventilation, with a group of microclimates created around internal public spaces. A covered area extends 145 m diagonally across the site, creating a 3-story atrium that enhances porosity between floors, while also working to improve overall connectivity and visual integration of the internal spaces.”

Completed in June 2017, the mixed-use development includes a community club, sports and recreation center, public library, polyclinic, a senior care center and public green space. In addition to the abundance of greenery, solar heat and radiation is mitigated with tapered facade glazing, solar fins and optimized passive solar conditions. A rainwater collection system and gray water system were also integrated into the building to ensure responsible and sustainable water use.

Lauren Nassef
As flooding increases across the country, architects and policymakers are strategizing ways to contain the deluge.

Flooding, long dismissed as a problem that happens to someone else, has risen in our national consciousness over the past 15 years thanks to such names as Katrina, Rita, Sandy, and Harvey—a set of the worst houseguests you could ever imagine. Recent flooding has been driven by a variety of causes: hurricanes whose landfall wasn’t in perennially threatened areas, as well as intense rains and snowmelt—manifestations of climate change and malign coincidence.

One linked fact is that flooding has afflicted far more than the usual geographic suspects, with New England and the Gulf Coast experiencing intense onslaughts. The impact has been highly destructive, and the only silver lining might be a greater awareness among architects and experts—and the public—of the need to take action.

Resilience, which until recently was represented by academics or the occasional forward-minded planner, is in the process of vaulting into mainstream consciousness as a result.

Illya Azaroff, AIA, founding principal at +LAB Architect PLLCs and a professor at New York City College of Technology (City University of New York), notes, “Before Hurricane Sandy, every time there was a resilience meeting, we all knew each other. Since then, I’m in meetings all of the time, and I don’t know a majority of the people. That’s a great thing.” (Azaroff ’s #HurricaneStrong home in Breezy Point, Queens, is the subject of the 2019 AIA Film Challenge seed film.)

Among architects and policymakers, a more acute awareness of the risks of flooding is developing—not only because of its increased geographic dispersal, but also because flooding has started to serially outstrip the bounds of outdated flood maps in surges of Neptunian irredentism. While this is an obvious shock to anyone whose home or business has been deluged, it is often chased by a second one: the fact that no one will pay for the damages.

FEMA flood maps, which classify sites into different levels of risks, have been irregularly funded, and many homes and businesses within their current boundaries lack insurance anyway. Prospective changes to FEMA flood insurance policies could prompt considerable changes in the nature of future construction and repairs in vulnerable areas. Assessments to date have been based on comparatively broad classifications of risk; FEMA’s Risk Rating 2.0 update, set to be implemented in 2020, will apply a finer-grained set of evaluations to individual properties, including the elevation of ground on the property, the elevation of a structure’s first-floor distance to water, and potential rebuilding costs.

“If property ownership costs are going to dramatically increase, that will have an affect on architects and the kinds of buildings they design,” says Rachel Minnery, FAIA, the senior director of resilience, adaptation, and disaster assistance at AIA. “Design is not the leader here, economic loss is.”

When it comes to the work of influencing and guiding where to build, how to build, how to protect what’s built, and how to reduce overall flood risks, architects have a vital role to play.

David Waggonner, FAIA, a principal at Waggonner & Ball who has been active with New Orleans flood planning, notes that architects are often merely responding to client specifications and may not have ultimately persuasive capacities, but that it is becoming necessary to take a stronger stance. “Architects are needed,” he says. “If we stay out of this, God help us.”

Storm-Related Ocean Flooding in Boston

There is no single way to foil flooding, and understanding the geographic variables is key. Some parts of New England, unexpectedly ravaged during Hurricane Sandy, feature safe land close to where any building is sited—even next to the ocean.

“The geologic structure of Connecticut is like the fingers of your hand; some of the geological ridges stretch out into the sea. You don’t have to retreat out of the area; you just have to retreat upland to the ridges,” says Donald Watson, FAIA, principal at EarthRise Design in Trumbull, Conn. This means that flood-vulnerable neighborhoods can migrate to higher ground nearby, possibly within the same town.

“Greenwich has done this [by allowing] developers to increase densities in safe zones and decrease densities in unsafe zones,” he says. New housing is permitted in the flood plain if
Alicja Biała, Iwo Borkowicz and Dominik Pazdzior
Designer Alicja Biała and architect Iwo Borkowicz have aimed to capture the realities of climate change with these colourful Totemy towers that serve as multi-storey data visualisations.

Installed beneath MVRDV's Bałtyk tower in Poznań, Poland, each of the six Totemy sculptures is a nine-metre-tall, geometric wooden tower.

Each of the totems has been designed to communicates a statistic about an environmental issue. For instance, one totem illustrates what has happened to every piece of plastic produced throughout history.

The sculpture is dominated by its blue top half, carved into bold geometric shapes and faintly patterned with swirls. This represents all the plastic that has been discarded as waste.

Below it, slimmer sections in different colours show the fates of the remaining plastic. Green shows it is still in use; red, that it has been burnt. The slimmest section, a mere belt of yellow, represents plastic that has been recycled.

Viewers can access these explanations — as well as links to the statistics' sources — by scanning a QR code on each sculpture.

Biała said she hopes the installation, which will remain at the site permanently, will help to inject climate change into people's conversation.

"We wanted to address the public at large, and at an everyday level," she said. "Passersby on the street and tram will catch out of the corner of their eye a flash of strong colours and be reminded of the current state of our world."

She has been buoyed by the positive response, both locally and abroad, since Totemy opened on 16 May.

"This is particularly important within the state of discourse in Poland where many politicians and public figures manifest climate ignorance, like Polish President Andrzej Duda, who has a rich climate change denial history," said Biała.

"The thing is that our totems are designed to represent science; you may discuss with me, but you cannot argue with facts."