• Designing for Sustainability to Address Climate Change
  • Work with What Already Exists
  • Try Out New Forms
  • Adapt Progressive Water Strategies
  • Use Low-Impact Materials
  • Reduce and Procure Energy
  • Incorporate Intelligent Design Features
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Designing for Sustainability to Address Climate Change

Sustainable buildings are comfortable and humane, as well as highly efficient using energy and water.
Designing for Sustainability to Address Climate Change
Image credit: Garrett Rowland | Courtesy of Gensler
5 min read
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The design community is long past the point where aesthetics alone drive our urban layouts and building designs. Today, major contributing factors such as climate change are driving our decision making. And the way our designs adapt and respond will be perhaps the most impactful factor in our global efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Last October, the United Nations released its latest climate report, which states that climate change has resulted in increased frequency of severe weather events across the globe. With higher rates of floods, heat waves, severe rain and snow storms, and other consequences of global warming, our community’s embracement of resilient design strategies will ensure our cities withstand the strains brought by climate change.

Gensler is laying the foundation for lifecycle thinking that considers not only the energy and carbon expended in creation, but also the expenditure at the end of that building’s lifecycle. As an architecture and design industry leader, we are leading the charge in resilient building design. This includes signing the 2015 Paris Pledge for Action, continuing our participation on the Corporate Advisory Board for the World Green Building Council, and striving to meet the American Institute of Architecture’s goal that every Gensler project is designed to reach net-zero for energy and water consumption by 2030.  But we cant do it alone and we need the support of other firms in order to prevent global warming from reaching dangerous levels.

Climate change requires that companies go beyond basic sustainability tactics. They need to embrace buildings that are designed for rapid response and adaptation. In other words, the future of the built environment requires decision-makers to employ ‘green’ building techniques that also adapt to future technological advancements and capacity requirements.

Here are six cutting-edge design strategies the built environment can use to help address climate while simultaneously preparing for the future.

Designing for Sustainability to Address Climate Change

Work with What Already Exists

Work with What Already Exists
Image credit: Garrett Rowland | Courtesy of Gensler

The single most significant decision to minimize environmental impact is to reuse buildings or spaces that already exist. It takes 20 to 30 years for a building’s carbon emissions to equal the amount of carbon embodied in a building’s materials, our structures must be agile and flexible enough to adapt to changing needs. Etsy's new Brooklyn headquarters incorporates not only locally sourced materials but also a model for how to renovate and reuse an existing building.

Related: This Company Set Up an Amazing Office Inside a Historic Victorian Castle

Designing for Sustainability to Address Climate Change

Try Out New Forms

Try Out New Forms
Image credit: Connie Zhou

Designers of buildings and cities must be willing to experiment with building orientation, location and technology. A building can be oriented to maximize southern light and minimize western exposure, resulting in energy savings. The Tower at PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh is an excellent example of how a building can leverage energy-savings features to minimize heat gain. The structures double-skin facade allows air space between the layers of glass to act as an insulator against extreme temperatures.

Related: 3 Ways How Daylight Inclusion At Workplace Can Improve Productivity

Designing for Sustainability to Address Climate Change

Adapt Progressive Water Strategies

Adapt Progressive Water Strategies
Image credit: Courtesy of Gensler

Many global cities are in areas prone to flooding and sea level rise. Therefore, design strategies that mitigate water risks are required for the long-term health of our future cities. Just as urban planners of these cities will experiment with canals and solutions for combating influxes of water, designers of individual buildings need to use materials capable of withstanding excess water damage. Miami is already exploring ways to leverage a series of cut/fill canals to channel water into flood-proofed locations.

Related: These 4 Startups Have Solution to Water Crisis

Designing for Sustainability to Address Climate Change

Use Low-Impact Materials

Use Low-Impact Materials
Image credit: Courtesy of Gensler

Building designers should use materials with lower carbon impact, and reuse or recycle materials whenever possible. More energy is expended during the production of construction materials than at any other point of a building’s lifecycle. First United Banks in Texas use a renewable timber structure, helping the building be over 40 percent more efficient than code requirements.

Related: Hempcrete: The New Building Material

Designing for Sustainability to Address Climate Change

Reduce and Procure Energy

Reduce and Procure Energy
Image credit: Peter Molick Photography

The path to net zero involves both energy reduction and energy creation. We should not just focus on minimizing energy usage, but also on offsetting energy needs with renewable sources -- onsite or from the grid. The new Houston Advanced Research Center operates at 60 percent less energy than a baseline project by employing on-site geothermal energy and photovoltaic rooftop panels.

Related: The Unexpected Benefits of Energy Efficiency

Designing for Sustainability to Address Climate Change

Incorporate Intelligent Design Features

Incorporate Intelligent Design Features
Image credit: Create AR | Gensler & © Blackstation | Gensler

As technology continues to permeate our lives, we increasingly demand spaces, buildings, and cities with “smart” features. Intelligent spaces use real-time data to optimize both performance and experience dynamically. To name a few, designers should use technologies such as breathable facades, automatically dimming, and demand responsive lighting. The Johnson Control’s Asia Pacific headquarters utilizes automated shades and intelligent lighting systems to reduce both water and energy use by more than 40 percent.

Whether it is a structure’s responsiveness to a natural disaster, or a building’s agility and adoption for serving a new tenant’s use, all roads lead to the better management of carbon. Because cities are responsible for 70 percent of global carbon emissions, we devote our immediate attention to our urban areas, since it is clear that our resilient design decisions will be felt by the generations following us. The consequences of planetary warming are already happening and now is the time for the land use community to prioritize lifestyle thinking and how resilience strategies can maximize the longevity and legacy of our development projects.