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Sustainable Architecture: Towards a Carbon Positive Earth

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Architecture
Wordcount: 3224 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Depending on the context, Architecture can be defined in multiple ways, for example, Residential Architecture is designing a house that not only acts as a second skin and provides shelter from the elements but also provides a psychological medium to the inhabitants2. However, when looking at Commercial Architecture the meaning changes to a building which supports function over aesthetics, like offices, schools and hospitals. Despite this variation in meaning, an architect’s role stays the same, with little flexibility. Architects are supposed to work in collaboration with the clients to produce a building that acts in favor of the users. Although, in recent years Architects had to think about the environmental impact that their building is going to produce on a global scale, due to the increase in greenhouse effect and global warming. Architects are to be blamed for many of the factors contributing to these global problems, due to their use of artificial materials and systems, instead of using nature- based materials13. This manifesto will look at how architecture should be environmentally driven instead of construction driven and how research can help with that, it also suggests carbon positive designing and how that affects the function of a building. Moreover, it discusses the influence of the society on architectural ethics, while criticising the DADA movement for giving architecture no importance and finally showing how Cultural Architectural is one of the best demonstrators of sustainable buildings if used in Modern Architecture. It concludes by reflecting on how the Earth is still a long way from being a carbon positive planet and suggesting further research on how 3D Printing buildings affect the environment in consideration of how it withstands time.

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Architecture, unfortunately, became construction driven according to Peter Blundell 14, which focuses on the amount of time the building takes to be built and the construction costs while ignoring the environmental costs. For example, including buffers and galleries in buildings costs more money, thus recent buildings do not have them even if they help ventilate the building (See Figure 1). Another example is 3d printing with concrete, as it uses more materials in general than traditional building and as more concrete is needed per building, carbon dioxide production increases, which increases the overall temperature of the Earth 17. However, it takes less time to produce a building and its construction cost is lower. In addition, it lowers the transportation costs as the building is built on site. Like the 3D houses built in the Netherlands that uses two layers of polyurethane, a synthetic material that is used for insulation, with cement poured in between4. This not only wastes cement, but it might also be harmful to the inhabitants as polyurethane is currently being researched on producing harmful gases. Although 3D printing removes the needs for transportation which aids the sustainability process, but more research is needed to know if this compensates for the Carbon Dioxide produced in the Concrete production15.

For this cause I believe that research should be based on organic materials and not technology 3 seen as technology is proved to be failing and requires high maintenance from the inhabitants. It is also not ideal to be used in the extreme climate change that we live in, where rainy days and power cuts are increasing.  While the use of organic substances gives the building a longer lifespan and has been in use for a long time, which gives architects the advantage of knowing how to use it properly and makes it easier for researchers to find a way in which it can be used in an environmentally friendly way. Rather than trying to find a way to build with machines, find a solution for the organic materials to be used in an environmentally positive building.  Namely, DUS Architects found a way to solve the problems of 3D Printing with concrete, by printing using Linseed oil a micro home in Amsterdam6 (See Figure 2) and are taking this concept further to create a 3D printed canal house that is due this year.7

I believe in modern houses that is not just sustainable but also gives back to the environment. So I believe that buildings, at least houses, should use each aspect that it has in its own benefit as an organism would do. To illustrate, the Cobtun House was built to satisfy the needs of its owner who had health problems and did not want to live in a house full of artificial products, so it was designed from natural materials as shown in Figure 3. Houses should be built to satisfy the functional needs and nothing more. Seen as big homes use more energy as most of the energy is used for ventilation, cooling, heating, and lighting12, the form of the houses is crucial9. In order to decrease the overall energy that the buildings consume, architects should use a form with the least form factor, the amount of surface area compared to the volume, which is the shape of an igloo12. Nonetheless, with the increase in temperature, the shape of the igloo is not ideal as it does not allow the building to cool down in hot weather due to its small surface area, thus the usage of a shape with a small frame factor but as a multi-housing platform is better.

 A building is never finished. In order to have enough space in the future, a building should be easy to refurbish or renew. So, building materials should be separate from each other and from the site. Meaning the building should touch the ground lightly and could be removed without damaging the ground underneath it, and materials could be removed and used in other buildings 10. This results in the reuse of materials and places rather than recycling or disposing of them, and thus results in a more efficient, environmentally friendly building, seen as the act of reuse is better than recycle and disposal according to the waste pyramid 9. To understand why reuse is better than recycle take glass as an example, recycled glass is not used in construction in the UK as it contains a lot of impurities and can not withstand the wind pressure 10, so reusing glass from the previous building is better, as there is fewer waste materials and no transportation pollution is produced.  Which is helpful seen as the Carbon Dioxide emissions from transport and domestic use are the most significant in the UK (See Figure 4)

As Bruno Taut stated in Down with Seriousism, there should be no rules to architecture 3 as it will result in repetitive buildings. Repetitive buildings, like the International Housing scheme of Le Corbusier 10, can cause a lot of environmental problems as it would not be custom made for the site and its needs, seen as every site has different requirements and an international approach ignores that (See Figure 5). Moreover, sustainable building uses materials that are publicly available in the site in order to reduce transportation wastes. However, architects need to recognize the power they have and how it affects their surroundings, so there will still be ethics in Architecture that prevents architects from damaging the world. 5

Nevertheless, the ethics of Architecture changes over time. For example, The DADA Movement that started in 1923 claims that Architecture is not supposed to be serious 16, which is different from how Architecture is perceived today. As Architecture is seen as one of the factors that affect Global Warming, due to the usage of materials that produce a lot of Carbon Dioxide, like the production of cement and the deforestation of forests, seen as they were used in construction without ensuring that the trees were replanted and due to the lack of land available 5. The future changes would not be as drastic due to the increasing influence of non- governmental organizations that affect the social and political issues. They mainly focus on what is helpful for the environment and people’s rights, like Greenpeace or Amnesty International1. An example of their influence on Architecture is illustrated in Figure 6.

One of the Architectural approaches that take into consideration the environment and the area surrounding the site is the Islamic Architecture. It was based before the advancement of technology and transport, so they had to use natural elements in their favor as much as possible. This includes the use of materials that are found on site, namely timber and the use of light screens (See Figure 7) to benefit from the sunlight and wind while protecting themselves from the heat8 11. Despite its advantages, it was based in rural areas where there were not any tall buildings that would block the wind and because it was not originated in cities, the heat island effect was not a factor. This results in a difficulty in using their approach today, seen as cities are increasing in number as well as tall buildings. But this should not stop us architects from trying to advance their methods. Using advanced technologies to try as much as possible to use nature’s given energy while ensuring that our buildings are either sustainable or eco-friendly (See Figure 8).

It is still a long way for the Earth to become carbon positive, seen as Architecture is still construction driven, however, this is starting to decrease as Architects realise how they are affecting the globe by using non- biodegradable materials. This manifesto claims that buildings should be built in order for it to be easy to take apart and for the materials to be used in other buildings again. It also states that architecture should be left free for the imagination and creativity to take place, although Architectural Ethics is still relevant and is being influenced by the public through not- for- profit organisations. It ends by giving an example of how modern architecture can improve its sustainability by learning from ancient architecture. Writing this manifesto, introduced the author to the freshness of 3D printers used for construction as the products are still being tested against time, its overall effect on the environment needs further research. The author believes that human beings are not superior to other living organisms and have no right to affect their lives the way that architecture is doing nowadays and would like to change that in the future.


1 Brown, D., Sanjeev, K., Mark M., and Peter, F., ‘Globalization, NGOs and Multi-Sectoral Relations.’ Social Science Research Network, no. 1 (July 1, 2000). https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=253110.  [accessed 15 November 2018]

2 Peter Clegg, ‘Carbon Dioxide’, in Feilden Clegg Bradley: The Environmental Handbook, ed. by Ian Latham, Mark Swenarton (London: Right Angle, 2007) pp. 190-94.

3 Ulrich Conrads, Programs and Manifestoes on 20th-Century Architecture. (Cambridge [Mass.]: M.I.T., 1970) pp 50-174.

4 Cowan, Michael. “The World’s First Family to Live in a 3D-Printed Home,” Technology https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-44709534  [accessed 15 November 2018]

5 Delancey, Craig. “Architecture Can Save the World: Building and Environmental Ethics.” The Philosophical Forum 35, no. 2 (June 1, 2004): 147–59 https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0031-806X.2004.00167.x [accessed 15 November 2018]

6 Douma, Floris. ‘3D Print Canal House’  DUS Architects http://houseofdus.com/project/3d-print-canal-house/  [accessed 15 November 2018]

7 Douma, Floris. ‘Urban Cabin’ DUS Architects http://houseofdus.com/project/urban-cabin/  [accessed 15 November 2018]

8 Ettinghausen, Richard, Oleg Grabar, and Marilyn Jenkins. Islamic Art and Architecture 650-1250. Google Books, https://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=l1uWZAzN_VcC&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=islamic+architecture+decoration&ots=Mf4wmN-NIM&sig=PRNrL5CQE4HHQycTfCgFQQh9hz8#v=onepage&q=islamic%20architecture%20decoration&f=false [accessed 15 November 2018]

9 Fionn Stevenson,  “Environment and Technology: Eco-house”  (undergraduate lecture, University of Sheffield, 22 October 2018)

10 Howard Evans, “Environment and Technology: Anatomy of a Building”  (undergraduate lecture, University of Sheffield, 24 September 2018)

11 David Levitt, The Housing Design Handbook: A Guide to Good Practice. (Abingdon, Routledge, 2010) pp 204-232.

12 Dejan Mumovic and Mat Santamouris, A Handbook of Sustainable Building Design and Engineering: An Integrated Approach to Energy, Health, and Operational Performance. (London; Sterling, VA, Earthscan, 2008) pp 63-72.

13 Sue Roaf, Manuel Fuentes and Stephanie Thomas-Rees, Ecohouse 2: a design guide, 2nd ed., (Oxford, Routledge, 2014) pp 28-48

14 Sheffield, University of. ‘Professor Peter Blundell Jones’ Academic and Teaching Staff – People – School of Architecture – The University of Sheffield https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/architecture/people/academic/peter-blundelljones [accessed 15 November 2018]

15 Stevenson, Fionn. “Embedding Building Performance Evaluation in UK Architectural Practice and Beyond.” Building Research & Information 47, no. 3 (April 3, 2019): 305–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/09613218.2018.1467542.  [accessed 15 November 2018]

16 Tzara, Tristan, Seven Dada Manifestos and Lampisteries, Google Books, [accessed 15 November 2018]

17 Wu, Peng, Jun Wang, and Xiangyu Wang. “A Critical Review of the Use of 3-D Printing in the Construction Industry.” Automation in Construction 68 (August 1, 2016): 21–31 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.autcon.2016.04.005 [accessed 15 November 2018]



Figure 1: Galleries and Buffers in Ventilation

Source: Torben Dahl (2010) p. 19

Figure 2: 3D printing with Linseed Oil

Source: Floris Douma (n.a.)

Figure 3: Cobtun House

Source: AJ Buildings Library (2003)

Figure 4: Carbon Dioxide emitted in the UK

Source: Peter Clegg (2007)

Figure 5: Light Beds (Saves energy)

Source: Marcus Fairs (2007)

Figure 6: Plan Voisin

Source: Karim Hadjri (2018)


Figure 7: Light screens  

Source: Torben Dahl (2010) p.37

Figure 8: Light screens used in Modern Architecture

Source: Studio 505, Winter Garden (n.a.)

Illustrations Bibliography:


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