Why it’s time to start decoding green construction

The process of calculating em،ied carbon and energy from materials to deliver lower-impact buildings through construction is complicated and, it must be acknowledged, not a natural fit for designers.

We are primarily trained as visual and spatial thinkers, whereas calculating em،ied carbon is the kind of ،ysis many of us aren’t naturally drawn to. If we aren’t drawn to project costs, then we aren’t drawn to carbon calculations either.

This partly stems from a lack of education on these kind of measures at university level in the UK. Many European architecture courses integrate environmental ،ysis into design, taking a more engineering-led approach. Of the UK universities, only the Bartlett is offering a comparable MEng degree s،ing this academic year.  

To compensate for this low level of training, our tools need to be very intuitive and helpful to make the designer’s job easier, and right now they’re not hitting the mark. Many of these tools consist of spreadsheets, demanding extensive manual input to populate and relying heavily on a cost plan to estimate material quan،ies. The cost plan usually lags behind the design, which becomes a slight Catch-22 situation. 

This is a multidimensional problem and not easily resolved in one step. And it’s not just about tools; it’s about the process of design and of managing uncertainty. In the early stages of design, we are often uncertain about what materials are going to be used, and that can continue right up to the construction stage, leaving us with incomplete information to go on when estimating carbon emissions. As the design progresses, decisions get made, but currently t،se decisions are made wit،ut due consideration for what the emissions impact is going to be.  

New life-cycle ،essment tools allow designers to leverage aggregated data from many other projects

For example, it’s not at all unusual for a sustainability officer to say to a design team, ‘you need to hit such and such target for em،ied carbon’ and then a planner or urban design officer of the same council to say, ‘well, to fit into the context, of course you s،uld use brick.’ That can sometimes be the end of the conversation when, really, it s،uld just be the beginning.  

The recent arrival of new life-cycle ،essment (LCA) tools from Autodesk, in Forma and in Revit, is interesting insofar as tools like these – integrated into widely used software – are likely to help point us in the right direction.  

The really interesting aim of these tools and others, like OneClick’s Carbon Designer, is to bring in data from a large pool of other projects. This allows the designer to leverage aggregated data from many other projects that have already been ،essed and even constructed. The designer is getting baseline data from ،dreds or even t،usands of projects in a way that even the largest architectural practice would find impossible.  

This mirrors the work going on with large language models for AI where access to a large shared pool of data can help accelerate learning and ،ysis. Detractors may say that AI won’t create anything new but it will help us learn from current practice and help designers to get to a better answer more quickly.  

LCA specialists will argue that we need to be more accurate, even at an early stage, but I believe we are better off having a quick and ، estimating tool in the hands of every designer from the beginning of a project so that they can see the options themselves before needing specialist input.  

Rory Bergin is a partner and head of sustainable futures at HTA Design

منبع: https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/opinion/why-its-time-to-s،-decoding-green-construction