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<a target="_blank" href="http://arjournals.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.energy">http://arjournals.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.energy</a>.
<a target="_blank" href="http://industrial-energy.lbl.gov/node/193">http://industrial-energy.lbl.gov/node/193</a>
October 17, 2006
Anti environmental architecture
I watched the Stirling Awards for Architecture on Saturday with a
These awards are the Booker of Buildings. Although all manner of
croneyism, politics and fashion determines who makes the short list
they are as good a reflection as any of what the architecture and
arts world see as the cutting edge of new design.
Watching it I can only conclude that architects exhibit a
particularly interesting and complex form of denial. Architects are,
in my experience, aware people with progressive politics. As a
profession they have a huge responsibility for causing climate change
(the energy consumed by buildings and their materials are the single
largest source of greenhouse gases) and a huge opportunity to develop
the forms and structures of a low carbon economy. And, to be fair,
they do talk about climate change a fair bit in magazines and
conferences and books.
But the people at the top of the profession who get the Stirling and
Pritzker prizers and the Gold medals and the gongs and the big fancy
projects are not building anything that remotely reflects the
realities of climate change.
This is an extremely interesting period for architecture- the most
inventive and expressive in thirty years- and that expression is
being achieved through technologies and materials that are the
antithesis of a low carbon sustainable economy.
Take concrete for example. Cement has horrible CO2 emissions- very
high temperatures are needed to slake the lime which produces yet
more carbon dioxide as a by product. Cement manufacture accounts for
5% of the worlds greenhouse gas emissions. If we were serious about
climate change it would be used very sparingly indeed.
And yet the bookies favourite to win the Stirling prize was Zaha
HadidÕs extraordinary Phaeno Science Centre. It is is a symphony in
Ôcompacted concreteÕ Ð the concrete floors sweeping up and around the
museum to create one organic whole. It creates a thrilling new
language for concrete that will be imitated widely. But it pays a
high price. It used 27,000 cubic metres of concrete which produced
nearly 10,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Given that a sustainable
level is probably not much more than one tonne of carbon dioxide per
person per year, that is a huge footprint.
Architects adore reinforced concrete because it combines strength
with immense sculptural potential. Another Stirling shortlist was a
Ôbrick houseÕ by Caruso St John, the most striking quality of which,
despite its name, is the neo-expressionist crumpled lines of its
concrete roof slab. ThereÕs an awful lot of concrete in that house.
It pays clear homage to Louis Kahn and the formal language he
developed 40 years ago, a long time before we knew of the impending
collapse of the worldÕs weather system.
The winner of the Stirling Prize is Richard RogersÕ Barajas Airport.
An airport wins the prize! A parking garage for the fastest growing
cause of climate change! The top architects probably spend half their
lives in airports and are especially subject to the near universal
denial about the impacts of flights. Yet, if we are going to deal
with climate change this building type needs to become as obselete as
the bear pit.
One reason that people donÕt see planes as polluting is that it
doesnÕt feel dirty. There are no smokestacks or piles of coal. Planes
feel (and feelings count more than reality when we assess impacts)
very smart and white and clean. Rogers and his team have concentrated
their creativity on creating an airport that extends that feeling-
all open and bright and fresh.
But the openness and brightness of the interiors is made possible by
large expanses of plate glass (and a lot of steel to hold it up).
What we donÕt see in the pictures is the huge cooling and heating
plant which keeps it at a tolerable temperature. No doubt Rogers, who
speaks often about climate change (his shortlisted Welsh Assembly
building appears to have made a serious attempt to be green), has
achieved a very high energy design by using lots of clever technology
and design to keep the energy load manageable.
This is the nub. Modern energy saving technology is not being used to
create buildings with zero emissions but is enabling increased
transparency and expressive potential. This is exactly what is
happening in the car industry where the main market for LPG and fuel
cells is for sports utility vehicles- the heaviest cars ever built.
And one could expand on this point endlessly. All around the world
the best and most creative architects are using new technologies to
push the expressive potential of their buildings. Gehry faces his
buildings with sheets or stainless steel and titanium (the most
energy intensive metal of all). Rem Koolhaas has built a new library
in Seattle with entirely glass walls and roof. Work was suspended on
Herzog and de Meuron Ôs Olympic stadium in Beijing because of the
costs of the 80,000 tonnes of steel involved in its construction.
ThatÕs 152,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide- an incredible indulgenceÉand
so I could go on. None of these designs are models for a sustainable
future. All the architects have won the Pritzer award- the highest
award for architecture.
As you can tell, I love architecture but despair of what is being
done with it. Modernism arose from an entirely valid critique that
traditional building was not able to meet the needs and opportunities
of the modern world. In fifty years time, as the seas are rising and
the hurricanes are crashing every month into Florida these buildings
will appear pathetically dated- the last decadent rococo flourish of
the carbon age. So why, when all the scientists agree on the problem,
are they still be built and lauded?
This article was posted on www.climatedenial.org a site which
explores the psychology of our denial of climate change. Please feel
free to distribute
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On 17 Jun 2007, at 16:35, Rikki Nitzkin wrote:
I am looking for some document with Numbers explaining why we
If anyone can send me one or direct me to a web-page I would be
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