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Published On: Tue, Apr 30th, 2019

Architecture in the Era of Climate Change

As climate change continues to present huge challenges in the United States and around the world, architects are taking notice and vowing to do things differently. This is especially true in commercial development since buildings emit approximately half of the carbon dioxide in the United States and use about 40 percent of available energy.

The emission of carbon dioxide comes through the burning of oil, coal, and gas as well as the production of cement and greenfield development. As carbon dioxide gets released into the atmosphere, it becomes trapped and starts to heat the earth. Scientists have made a direct connection between climate change and an increase in natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and even fires. The reality of climate change has caused some architects to institute new ways to develop buildings that would have been unheard of even five years ago.

Snow covered houses

photo/ Fabio Piccini via pixabay.com

The Advent of the Floating House

In June 2017, a thunderstorm hit the southern portion of the Canadian province of Ontario and took only a few hours to dump as much rain as the area normally gets in one month. This experience was the catalyst for 75 architects to come together from 16 countries to discuss how to deal with future deluges of water. That same summer, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Texas and pounded the city with more than 50 inches of rain.

The International Conference on Amphibious Architecture, Design, and Engineering took place over three days in Ontario shortly after the June 2017 thunderstorm. One of the most intriguing development that came out of the conference was the idea to build amphibious structures that respond to flooding by rising several feet above the water. The consensus of the architects attending the convention was that a house or building with the ability to rise above the water is a superior solution to building new structures on stilts.

Architectural Materials to Resist Natural Disasters

Many in the architecture industry feel a great sense of responsibility to use new and stronger materials to stand up to the demands of climate change. Bendable glass is just one such example of new hurricane-proof construction methods. This special type of glass contains micro-fissures that allow it to bend without breaking. At a strength nearly 200 times that of regular glass, bendable glass also prevents a fracture from expanding and causing greater damage.

Ultra-high-performance concrete, known as UHPC, is another promising breakthrough in architecture during a time of great climate change. UHPC has six times the strength of regular concrete. Unlike regular concrete, however, UHPC can bend without breaking. The typical materials used to create UHPC include recycled items such as silica fume, fly ash, and other fine aggregates. The injection of polyvinyl alcohol or carbon metallic fibers is what allows the material to bend and continue to support weight after an initial crack has occurred.

Climate-Proof Architecture Requires a Commitment from Everyone

While much of the change rests on the architectural industry, homeowners and commercial property owners bear responsibility as well. It’s important to think beyond the immediate need and consider the effect that the building materials will have on the environment before even requesting architectural services. The more that people take this mindset, the greater the demand will become for eco-conscious housing and building structures.

Author: Andrew Armstrong

photo/ Tom

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