Climate change: three ways architecture can respond to environmental damage

If we were to stop producing carbon dioxide entirely, climate change would continue to occur due to the level of pollution that is already within the environment.

Climate change is a design flaw of our planet that poses a threat to our standard of living and is in constant need of being tackled. To reduce its effects there are two main options: decreasing the human-related factors that result in it, and the development of architectural strategies that allow its effects to be reduced.

Trillion dollar investments have spurred on the development of ‘megatrends’ aiming to tackle global warming e.g. mass making of electric cars and the mass production of vegan alternatives to meat. In architecture there has been an increase in design proposals aiming to make cities increasingly walkable- Zaha Hadid Architects and NLA exhibition ‘Walkable London’,  for example, illustrates this need. Additionally, designers are increasingly incorporating low-carbon materials into their designs, such as timber, low-carbon cement, geopolymers, and even terracotta, a durable material that transfers water effectively and can last hundreds of years.

In light of the ongoing environmental changes, architects are not only designing low-carbon buildings and cities to be less reliant on cars but are assessing how to respond to existing environmental damage. Here we look at three long-term strategies architects are implementing to counteract the effects of global warming.

Sponge cities

In Asian cities, such as Shanghai, traditional flood defence systems made from non-permeable materials are becoming inoperative due to rising sea levels. Redevelopment of infrastructure is restricted due to urban landscapes becoming flood-prone areas, which consequently has a detrimental effect on the buildings and transport systems.  

In response to this problem, China is developing sponge cities, urban areas incorporated with soft infrastructure, designed to absorb excess water. Non-permeable concrete facades and pavements are replaced with marshlands, wetlands, and green rooftops which remove mud, mildew and stagnant pools of water from the flooding.

In the Chinese district of Lingang, US Architectural company ‘Urban Lab’ has tackled the district’s flooding issue by aligning the urban landscape with permeable concrete and buildings with rooftops blooming with vegetation. The use of soft infrastructure increases a building’s insulation and consequently, less energy is used, reducing carbon emissions. Similarly in the US, unused infrastructure such as abandoned railroads are being transformed into green spaces, such as High Line Park in Manhattan.

Nanning skytline, China. Image credits: Saigon Punkid

Floating architecture

‘Floating architecture’ is an architectural strategy aiming to cope with rising sea levels by designing infrastructure that ‘floats’ upon waterways. Not only a sustainable device for travel, the infrastructure is designed to withstand environmental change.

Floating architectural projects often include biodegradable materials and solar panels which contribute to the sustainability of the construction, and as an effective means to tackle flooded housing, designs have popped up in all corners of the world, including Studio Octopi Float Topalis in South London.

One of the most visually impressive floating architectural projects is ‘Floating Island’  in Seoul, South Korea-  a cultural hub that holds exhibitions and performances. A collaborative project between Haeahn Architecture and H Architecture, the building consists of three structures which mirror the stages of a blossoming flower: its seed, bud, and bloom.

Floating Island is formed from steel, wood and glass and is equipped with a high-tech tracking system which alerts a controller when the island floats too far away (due to changing water levels) and consequently, the building then returns to its initial position.

Floating Island, Seoul, South Korea. Image credits:Creative Commons

Vertical forests

Similar to the use of soft infrastructure, increasing forestry is an effective solution for decreasing carbon dioxide levels, and countries like China have begun planting 6.6 billion hectares of forestry.

Designers such as Stefano Boeri are designing vertical forests, residential towers where a range of perennials and shrubs span the outside of the building. Boeri’s projects such as ‘Bosco Verticale’ in Milan and ‘The Trudo Vertical Forest’ in Eindhoven, not only decrease CO2 level but also provide comfortable accommodation, mitigate smog, and transform the urban landscape into a thriving environment for wildlife.

Bosco verticale. Image credits: Josef Grunig 

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