Proactive architects fight CO2 levels

September 19, 2006 | By | 5 Replies More

Last week, at Washington University, I attended a lecture by architect Edward Mazria, who speaks nationally and internationally on the subject of climate change and architecture.  Mazria’s organization, Architecture2030 is dedicated to “slowing the growth rate of greenhouse gas emissions and then reversing it over the next ten years.”  His proposals are getting lots of attention among architects.

As he states at his website, it is imperative that we deal seriously with CO2.  It will

require immediate action and a concerted global effort. As Architecture 2030 has shown, buildings are the major source of demand for energy and materials that produce by-product greenhouse gases. Stabilizing emissions in this sector and then reversing them to acceptable levels is key to keeping global warming to approximately a degree centigrade (°C) above today’s level.

Mazria began his talk with a PowerPoint presentation that largely paralleled Al Gore’s presentation in “An Inconvenient Truth.”   Here’s how he sizes things up currently

Two profound, life changing events are converging to create the most significant crisis of modern time— the warming of the earth’s atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, and the rapid depletion of global petroleum and natural gas reserves. As these events intensify over the coming years, they will dramatically change how we live and how we relate to the natural world.

Here’s how Architecture2030 illustrates the warming of the earth (see the Architecture2030 site for better resolution):


As you can see, CO2 levels (the upper blue line) have never been as high as they are currently.  At his lecture, Mazria indicates that humankind’s exhorbitant use of fossil fues constitutes a massive “experiment.”  

Here’s how Architecture2030 illustrates the depletion of oil:

peak oil.gif

According to Mazria, at current rates we have 42 years of oil and 64 years of natural gas remaining. When we’re done with oil and natural gas, we’ll be much more dependent on much dirtier coal, and clean coal technology is “decades away.”  The Architecture2030 site presents the above information in detail.

What’s the solution?  Mazria looks to the biggest user of energy.  When we combine residences with commercial and institutional structures, buildings consume 48% of our energy, more than any other sector. Combine the energy consumption of buildings with this and it spells opportunity: 

In the year 2035, three quarters of the built environment in the U.S. will be either new or renovated. This transformation over the next 30 years represents a historic opportunity for the architecture and building community to reverse the most significant crisis of modern time, climate change.

The energy usage of buildings, combined with society’s need for new and renovated construction lead Mazria to this conclusion: It is time for architects to lead in the race against dangerous climate change.  Architects have “great power to solve this huge problem.” But time is not limited. We have only “ten years to turn building architecture around.”  Architects should lead the race by engaging in the targets of the “2030 Challenge”:

That all new buildings and developments be designed to use 1/2 the fossil fuel energy they would typically consume (1/2 the country average for that building type).

That at a minimum, an equal amount of existing building area* be renovated annually to use 1/2 the amount of fossil fuel energy they are currently consuming (through design, purchase of renewable energy and/or the application of renewable technologies).

That the fossil fuel reduction standard for all new buildings be increased to:
60% in 2010
70% in 2015
80% in 2020
90% in 2025
Carbon-neutral by 2030 (using no fossil fuel GHG emitting energy to operate).

Is this do-able?  Absolutely, according to Mazria.  His site contains case studies showing that “building energy consumption reductions of 50% to 80% can readily be achieved through design at little or no additional cost.”  How is this achieved?

We know these targets are readily achievable and that most buildings can be designed to use only a small amount of energy at little or no additional cost through proper siting, building form, glass properties and location, material selection and by incorporating natural heating, cooling, ventilation, and day-lighting strategies.

The architects are also ahead of the general public on this issue. While our government sits on its hands, fighting a Middle East war over depleting fuel supplies, private industry is moving ahead.   David Suzuki writes that the Average Joe hasn’t a clue about the seriousness or the cause of global warming: 

The majority felt that global warming was a very important problem and they were quite concerned about it. But when pressed as to why it was a problem or what caused the problem, all heck broke loose. Apparently, according to the average Joe, global warming is happening because we’ve created a hole in the ozone layer, allowing the sun’s rays to enter the atmosphere and heat up the earth – or something like that. The cause of the problem is cars, or airplanes, or aerosol cans. No one really knows for sure.

Speaking of the Average Joe, there’s still no clue that President Bush has ever considered the critical issues of global warming or the rapid depletion of fossil fuels.  This is such a shame.  What a difference it could make if our President (and our other leaders) would use the bully pulpit to educate Americans on the dangers of failing to act proactively on these issues.

Here’s some good news: The recommendations Architecture2030 have been adopted by the American Institute of Architecture.  Here’s even more good news:

On June 6, the U.S. Council of Mayors voted unanimously to approve a resolution prompted by the AIA position statement that calls for the immediate energy reduction of all new and renovated buildings to halve the national average for that building type, with increased reductions of 10 percent every five years so that all buildings designed by the year 2030 will be carbon neutral—meaning that they will use no fossil fuel energy.

I commend Mazria’s organization for the well-organized information it presents (including its architecture case studies) and for its real world activities that are really making a difference. 


Tags: , , , , ,

Category: Consumerism, Energy, Environment, Politics, Web Site

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. hogiemo says:

    What about existing structures? If government were to adopt strict energy codes for existing buildings and provide grants. low or no-interest loans for improvements we could take back a large amount of lost energy through conservation and energy saving improvements which would translate into immediate reductions in energy costs and emissions.

    We tried this in Missouri with low interest home energy improvement loans (repayment could be part of your gas or electric bill) and for a while there were federal tax credits but, they expired. Maybe time to try again!

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Hogiemo: If you check the site of Architecture2030, you'll see that rehabbing existing structures is a huge part of the plan. Now, if we can only get state and federal government serious about substantial tax incentives for updating those existing structures. You can pay a lot now, or (as Mazria argues) you can pay enormous amounts later.

  3. grumpypilgrim says:

    I imagine we can thank the Bush Administration for the feds' failure to vigorously support conservation efforts. Republican tax incentives seem to have gone to oil companies to help support greater supply. God forbid anyone foster reduced demand.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    I received this notice from Architecture 2030 today:

    The 2010 Imperative: Global Emergency Teach-in: are you being trained for the world you will inherit?

    Santa Fe (December, 2006) – With so much attention given to transportation, many people are surprised to learn that buildings are the single largest contributor to global warming. In the US , buildings are responsible for almost half (48%) of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually; globally the percentage is even greater. To address the Building Sector's role in climate change, Architecture 2030, in partnership with AmericaSpeaks, is hosting a Global Emergency Teach-in.

    The Teach-in, entitled The 2010 Imperative, will be web-cast live from New York on February 20, 2007 from noon to 3 p.m. EST. Hundreds of thousands of students, faculty, deans and practicing professionals in the architecture, planning and design communities in North and South America and around the world will be logging on to discover how they inadvertently fuel global warming through design, and what they can do to change this. In addition to addressing climate change, participants will also learn about 'The 2030 Challenge' and 'The 2010 Imperative'.

    In response to the climate-change crisis, Architecture 2030 issued The 2030 Challenge in January of 2006. The Challenge calls for all new buildings and major renovations to immediately reduce their energy consumption by 50%, and all new buildings to be 'carbon neutral' by 2030. As The 2030 Challenge spreads across the country and around the globe, it will be the professionals and young designers who will be asked to implement it. Yet today, climate-change science, mitigation and adaptation strategies are virtually absent in many professional offices, as well as US and international professional design schools.

    To address this situation, a rapid transformation of the entire design and design education community must begin immediately. The 2010 Imperative, a challenge and strategy for transforming design education, will be issued to all schools during the Teach-in, and participants will be asked to adopt, support and implement its targets.

    To register for and/or participate in the web-cast, please visit

    Architecture 2030


  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's what global warming is about to do to major American cities, according to Ed Mazria.

Leave a Reply