Can Architecture and Urban Planning Fight Back Against Climate Change?

  • Climate change has been one of the most pressing topics of this year, and for a good reason. Its effects are visible not only in natural habitats but also in urban environments.
  • The construction industry has an important role to play in this dynamic.
  • Throughout the year, events such as COP27 emphasized the importance of striving to achieve net carbon zero and the challenges faced by developing countries affected by increasingly devastating natural disasters.
  • Possible directions for development include actions at varying stages and scales, from optimizing green spaces for urban heat control to employing local and innovative building materials to minimize the carbon footprint or passing laws that help create more sustainable urban and natural environments.

This article represents a roundup of articles published on ArchDaily during the course of 2022 with themes related to climate change and architecture’s potential to make a difference. It breaks down the topic into four main questions: What Are Cities Doing to Mitigate Urban Heat? How to Tackle Rising Sea Levels? What Was COP27 and Why Does It Matter? Can Building Materials Play a Role in Achieving These Goals? The last section presents an overview of new legislation approved during 2022 as a way of understanding how state and local governments are imposing this need for change.

Courtesy of Barcelona City Council

What Are Cities Doing to Mitigate Urban Heat?

In cities, one of the more visible effects of climate change is the intensifying heat waves hitting urban environments and putting millions of people in danger. Densely-populated cities are particularly at risk, partly because of the urban heat island effect. Heat risk levels also vary by neighborhood, with less affluent and historically marginalized sectors being the most affected due to the density of the population, limited access to cooling systems, and the limited availability of green urban spaces. To combat these effects, cities have the possibility of employing several strategies to keep their residents safe: from strategically using green infrastructure to lower temperatures, using reflective surfaces and passive cooling systems, to preparing climate shelters and even apps to help citizens safely navigate the city during the hot months.

Construction of the Collaroy sea wall. Image © Northern Beaches Council

How to Tackle Rising Sea Levels?

The rising sea levels threaten the livelihood of over 410 million people living in coastal cities. As these cities represent a point of attraction for residents, tourists, and businesses encouraged by the proximity of ports and maritime transportation, land use in these areas tends to favor density, with high-rise buildings and traffic-laden roads occupying most of the available space. This strategy has been proven inefficient in mitigating the effects of natural disasters affecting the areas, such as coastal erosion and recurring cyclones and floods. Architects and designers are looking at natural and vernacular solutions for rebalancing coastal ecosystems, like recreating mangrove forests, creating habitat breakwaters, or expanding offshore onto floating developments.

What Was COP27 and Why Does It Matter?

COP 27, or the 2022 United Nations Conference of the Parties, was an international conference held in in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, with the purpose of encouraging countries to take effective action against climate change and ensure that the global temperature increase remains below the 1.5°C mark. As the building industry is responsible for a large percentage of global emissions, this goal reflects heavily upon the profession. The main challenge is summarized in the goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions and committing to undertaking whole lifecycle carbon assessment for building to better understand their impact. This year’s conference also recognized the necessity to build climate resilience in vulnerable countries from the Global South.

© Matej Kastelic via Shutterstock

Can Building Materials Play a Role in Achieving These Goals?

This past year has seen a rising interest in researching and developing sustainable alternatives to commonly used building materials such as bricks and concrete. The purpose is to reduce the carbon footprint embedded in these materials. One of the most prominent fields in this endeavor is biofacture, a process involving biological organisms in manufacturing materials. Architects and designers are also looking into vernacular technologies and craftsmanship to better understand local conditions, involve the community, and profit from its knowledge of local conditions and constraints. This movement could have a significant impact in combating ecological degradation.

New Legislation Implemented in 2022

The laws passed by city or state officials represent a major step in ensuring that sustainable practices are implemented widely. This year, various laws were passed to help create safer and more resilient urban environments. Some look at buildings’ energy consumption, some regulate stormwater management, while others aim to create safe conditions for at-risk communities.


This article was first published in ArchDaily and is republished with permission.


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Green Building Africa promotes the need for net carbon zero buildings and cities in Africa. We are fiercely independent and encourage outlying thinkers to contribute to the #netcarbonzero movement. Climate change is upon us and now is the time to react in a more diverse and broader approach to sustainability in the built environment. We challenge architects, property developers, urban planners, renewable energy professionals and green building specialists. We also challenge the funding houses and regulators and the role they play in facilitating investment into green projects. Lastly, we explore and investigate new technology and real-time data to speed up the journey in realising a net carbon zero environment for our children.

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