Architecture 2030

September 24, 2007

The city of the future is not going to be a Jetson-esque collection of bubbles in the air, or towers connected by monorails, or any other radical vision. The city of the future will be more like that in Blade Runner, mostly recognizably familiar older buildings. Most of the city of the future has already been built and is standing. Certainly new buildings will be built. But they need to be made much more efficient than existing buildings. And Architecture 2030 is pressing for architects and the building industry to radically alter their methods of designing and building buildings to address environmental issues.

(The interspersed quotes in this article are taken from the Architecture 2030 "Think You’re Making a Difference?" page.)

Architecture 2030 is a foundation established by architect Ed Mazria in 2002. Mazria famously created the pie chart graph (see illustration) showing that buildings represent 48% of the total energy used in this country. As the largest single segment of energy use, responsible for nearly half of all energy use in the country, buildings need to have more attention paid to them. Architecture 2030 is dedicated to reducing all fossil-fuel, greenhouse-gas-emitting energy use for buildings by 2030, with an immediate 50% reduction (as compared to the typical energy use for particular building types), and phased increases in the reduction percentage until the 100% target is reached in 2030.

Buildings are responsible for more of an impact on the environment than cars or other elements of energy use because they last so long. As you drive around cities in the country, almost all of the vehicles on the road were built within the last 20 years. But the majority of the buildings are at least that old, and many are decades older. Buildings last a long time. They need to be substantial in order to accomplish their purposes. This makes them long-lasting, but they also are slow to adopt new, more efficient technologies. Replacing them is also incredibly expensive and extremely material and energy-intensive. So making sure that our buildings are built efficiently and with an eye to the future is crucial.

For building operations, carbon offsets are one way many people are looking to reduce the impact of their energy use. And while those steps can help to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide, the scale of even large scale efforts dwindles to near insignificance when compared to the amount of carbon that building energy use puts into the atmosphere.

"Home Depot is funding the planting of 300,000 trees in cities across the US to help absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions…

The CO2 emissions from only one medium-sized (500 MW) coal-fired power plant, in just 10 days of operation, will negate this entire effort."

Conservation steps can be helpful. Cutting your lighting energy usage by switching from incandescents to compact fluorescents is a step that many sources strongly advocate. (I’ve even mentioned it once or twice myself.) The energy savings are dramatic, and can cut energy use by more than half. Multiplied across millions of households, this amounts to a huge energy total, but lighting is just a portion of total building energy use.

"If every household in the US changed a 60-watt incandescent light bulb to a compact fluorescent…

The CO2 emissions from just two medium-sized coal-fired power plants each year would negate this entire effort."

Lighting energy reduction is a good first step, but there needs to be more done to build on these improvements. In addition to having all buildings be built to neutral GHG-emissions standards by 2030, they are also calling for an equal amount of existing building area to be renovated to matching levels of efficiency. Many steps are being taken presently to increase the efficiency of existing homes and buildings, but often, these steps are just doing less-bad than they are turning things around to the point of doing good. These are positive steps, certainly. But we need to continue to press for further improvements still.

"Wal-Mart is investing a half billion dollars to reduce the energy consumption and CO2 emissions of their existing buildings by 20% over the next seven years. If every Wal-Mart Supercenter met this target…

The CO2 emissions from only one medium-sized coal-fired power plant, in just one month of operation each year, would negate this entire effort."

Even if all of Architecture 2030’s goals are met, there will still be billions of square feet of buildings that have not been renovated by 2030 that will still be needing fossil-fueled energy supplies for their operation. Joshua Hill’s recent article noted the latest imperative from Architecture 2030 which calls for the elimination of coal as the "silver bullet" necessary to stop global warming. In 20 years, it is possible to begin to make significant changes in our energy infrastructure, so that renewable power sources represent an increasing portion of the energy being generated. Those developments, combined with increasing the energy efficiency of the buildings we are building, can help turn our energy profile to one that does not put such a carbon burden on the environment.

Image source: Architecture 2030