Architects and engineers are developing in-house models to help in the crusade to create the next generation of zero carbon buildings. And representatives from four of the leading exponents presented the lessons they had learned so far in an NLA webinar
Digital tools for low carbon design: case studies of innovation investigated the most accurate tools emerging to measure and reduce carbon emissions in buildings, kicked off by UKGBC sustainability advisor Lucy Rees outlining the difficult process, especially when it comes to the crucial issue of embodied carbon.
Niklas Eriksson, head of White ReCapture at White Arkitekter and an environmental specialist, said the tool or service it had developed – and digitalisation – allowed it to work towards local and global goals and look clearly at developing a circular mindset that it can use in helping clients.
White ReCapture concentrates on reusing buildings first, but then using data collection from 3d scans in the design stage, preparing an inventory on what can be used and forming a digital model, database and ‘customized consulting’ in the process.
‘The resources are limited and we need to make a big change to reach net zero carbon in 2050’, said Eriksson. ‘The circular economy is one of the most effective actions we can take to reach the goal, but also the most challenging one; and as architects we have the responsibility to accept this challenge and help the client make the change.’
Marta Galinanes Garcia, design director at AKT II, said that responding to the climate emergency was ‘at the top of our agenda’, seeing its role as engineers to reduce and manage how and where carbon is used. But the UK’s commitment on this front to reduce its emissions by at least 68% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels was ‘a super big challenge’ given the graph showing that goal’s almost vertical drop. The industry has pulled together on this front in response through organisations like the RIBA and LETI, but there is still a need to ‘build less, build clever and build efficiently’ with the start of the process being where the biggest carbon reduction potential lies. AKTII has developed its own carbon calculator tool, Carbon.AKT, a bespoke dynamic assessment tool aimed at informing carbon decisions in real time at the beginning of projects and ‘doing more with less’ before ‘lockdown on grids and materiality’.
Embodied carbon in MEP design is also a key consideration, said Louise Hamot, Global lead of lifecycle research at Elementa, the author of new guidance and calculation method on the issue.
‘We’re really happy to see all these conversations happening around carbon, about improving environmental impacts with structure and façade architecture. They are really necessary. But the truth is it is still missing a part of the picture, which is the building services’.
A good job is being done to track operational carbon linked with energy use, she went on. But the embodied carbon part is something that needs more engagement.
Finally, Antonia Vavanou, sustainable design assistant at Hawkins\Brown outlined the work the practice has done on preparing its own aid to sustainable design, H\B:ERT. ‘As architects we needed to start understanding the embodied carbon in our projects, both up front and whole life’, she said. The software, a version of which is downloadable from its website, enables the practice to focus on ‘big wins’ and carbon hotspots like structural facades, having seen a gap in the industry on measuring and reporting carbon emissions, showing visually which materials are causing the highest loads. Again, its power comes through using the software at an early stage in the design process when material choices are being made. ‘The benefits of using data to drive discussion and decision-making are clear’, said Vavanou.