Ecocentricity Blog: Buildings Made of Sky
In The New Carbon Architecture, Bruce King and his merry band of authors unpack all of the ways in which we can eliminate embodied carbon emissions when constructing buildings, and even go beyond to construct carbon negative buildings.
I haven’t written a book review recently. Admittedly, that’s in part because I haven’t done much reading recently. Fixing that is another 2020 resolution, and I got off to a good start on my beach vacation last month. So here’s my latest recommendation for you all (and yes, I know I’m a nerd for reading a book like this on the beach – I like being a nerd).
Count me a big fan of The New Carbon Architecture: Building to Cool the Climate, by Bruce King and friends. I say “friends” because the book is very much a collaboration. There are 21 authors contributing to write the 11 chapters of the book, and as a result, there is a lot of collective wisdom and first-hand experience found within the pages. And those pages offer a message of hope when it comes to our climate crisis.
The book is, in essence, an exploration of a relatively straightforward question. Can we construct buildings such that they are part of the climate solution instead of the climate problem? The answer is yes, but I want to peel a couple of layers back.
First, let’s explore the problem side of that question. There are two main ways that buildings contribute negatively to global warming. One is the carbon emissions associated with operating the building – its efficiency if you will. Lots of tremendous work has been done to address this problem, and buildings are much more energy efficient today than just a couple of decades prior. There is still room for improvement though, and I’m inspired to see more and more buildings trying to get all the way to net-zero (i.e. renewably generate as much energy as they consume).
The other negative impact comes from the carbon emissions associated with constructing the building in the first place, called embodied emissions or embodied carbon. Compared to operational efficiency, far less attention has been paid to these carbon emissions, even though they are more pressing in nature. That’s because embodied emissions are all incurred before the building is operational, while emissions from operations are spread out over the life of the building. With atmospheric carbon levels already at alarming levels, we need to have a bias for eliminating emissions in the short term over the long term.
In The New Carbon Architecture, Bruce King and his merry band of authors unpack all of the ways in which we can eliminate embodied carbon emissions when constructing buildings, and even go beyond to construct carbon negative buildings. One chapter explores the importance of renovating existing buildings over tear downs and new builds. Another looks at exciting new developments in “mass timber,” a category of wood products that can displace the use of carbon-intensive steel and concrete in buildings. One critical chapter speaks to the human health benefits of building with natural materials, connecting the dots between a critical social issue and a critical environmental one. There’s lots more too (like building with construction blocks made from straw!).
It’s a fairly quick and enjoyable book, balancing in-depth information with easy-to-read explanations of these building practices and technologies. I promise that if you read it, there will be multiple times that you stop and say, “Whoa…….cool!” And really, what higher praise can I give than that?
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