Why “carbon native” architects are essential to our sustainable future
The next generation of architects and engineers will help transition the industry to carbon-reducing buildings—with wood as the key renewable material.
If 2021 was the year the architectural community got serious about embodied carbon, then the decades ahead will see major changes in the way our buildings are designed and assembled. The impacts of climate change are forcing architects and engineers to grapple not only with the operational emissions their buildings generate, but also with the embodied emissions of the materials they specify. Can the resources we use to construct our buildings also be net zero—or even carbon positive?
In a blog for students and the architectural community at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, instructor Michael Salka says that timber is uniquely positioned to address the embodied carbon challenge as the sole renewable primary building material. “Building with timber empowers architects and designers to create contemporary buildings which lock up more atmospheric carbon than is released for their production,” he writes.
The impacts of that shift can be far-reaching and, for the building industry, disruptive. The adoption of mass timber would complement other trends toward prefabrication and design for offsite manufacturing. Architects, engineers, and designers will play more important roles than ever in that process, finding new ways to use wood’s thermal, aesthetic, and economic benefits to make beautiful buildings that create lasting value for owners and occupants. Emerging professionals will be on the front line of those advances.
The use of wood as a tool for reducing the carbon footprint of our buildings is the central theme of our CEU, Building Sustainably: From Forestland Management to Carbon-Positive, Healthy Buildings. The course is structured as an online workshop with panelists including academics, practicing designers, and sustainable development leaders exploring the increasing demand for healthy buildings and the resulting shifts in the ways our buildings are designed.
Urban Land Institute’s Monika Henn, one of the panelists, discusses the organization’s report on embodied carbon, which includes a simple pathway industry professionals can take to reduce embodied carbon in their buildings. “Something like mass timber is really going to meet a lot of these different recommendations that we have,” she says, such as considering low-carbon structural materials, reducing total materials in the building design, and repurposing used materials as much as possible.
A new generation of architects and engineers, fully immersed in wood building design, is needed to complete the industry’s transition to carbon-positive buildings. Learning from today’s top thinkers in sustainable design is an ideal first step for new architects to join that movement.Take the Building Sustainably CEU