Climate Positive Design / CMG Landscape Architecture

Architecture 2030’s collaboration with Climate Positive Design (first publicly discussed in ARCHITECT 's July/August 2022 issue) is part of an important shift toward more holistic thinking about the built environment (buildings, landscapes, and infrastructure) through the lens of materials and carbon. Increasingly, we recognize buildings as infrastructure and recognize infrastructure and exterior spaces as part of the built environment. Designers have influential roles in creating these spaces, with responsibilities encompassing planning and materials choices. Uniting the efforts of architects with those of their peers in landscape architecture, planning, and engineering is already commonplace inand critical tocomplex projects. It’s time to bring such collaboration in the built environment community to bear at all scales to advance and accelerate climate action.

Below, Kira Gould, Hon. AIA, talks with Pamela Conrad and Vincent Martinez, Hon. AIA.

Kira Gould: Architecture 2030 and Climate Positive Design recently announced the availability of a new set of resources focused on a “beyond buildings” approach. Why that framing now?

Vincent Martinez: Architecture 2030’s mission has always been to “transform the built environment from the major emitter of greenhouse gasses to a central solution to the climate crisis.” Our latest analysis of International Energy Agency data has indicated that the exterior built environment has been underrepresented. For example, infrastructure is responsible for nearly half of cement emissions and 27% of steel emissions. And with 75% of the infrastructure for 2050 yet to be built, we know there are significant opportunities through design and urban planning to reduce environmental impacts at this scale. Built environment professionals are not just responsible for buildings, but for landscapes and infrastructure as well. Now that we better understand the problem we can support each other in applying the solutions.

KG: There has been significant uptake in the Climate Positive Design Challenge, with more firms and projects reporting. What solutions are emerging from this work?

Pamela Conrad: Low carbon, nature-based solutions—often referred to as NbS—are underutilized across all disciplines. The good news is that is starting to change. While at the core of landscape architecture as shown in ASLA’s Climate Action Plan, these solutions are also gaining traction with architecture and engineering, evident in the AIA Framework for Design Excellence (Design for Ecosystems), USACE Engineering with Nature, and ASCE’s Infrastructure Report Card. From the CPD Challenge project reporting, we find the potential for carbon sequestration is significant. And per the Nature Conservancy, these ecological interventions can provide up to 30% of cost effective carbon drawdown needed by 2030. Nature-based solutions support climate mitigation and they enable co-benefits related to human and environmental health, economic prosperity, and biodiversity.

KG: As you note, these nature-based, low-carbon solutions have often been overlooked. What are the challenges ahead for implementing them?

PC: While progress is being made, there are still obstacles to overcome. NbS remain underfunded and unrealized because of a few factors. One of these is that implementing them requires a change in thinking about green versus gray first. This stems from conventional engineering approaches that are well documented, tested, and quantified. A shift in this pattern embraces interdisciplinary collaboration along with openness to change. For more on low-carbon resilient strategies, check out the newly updated Climate Positive Design Toolkit.

Another factor is that because these approaches don’t fit into the typical “box” of design thinking, they can be difficult to squeeze into funding and regulatory silos as well. Fortunately, the White House has clearly identified this hurdle and has developed a roadmap of how to address needed policy changes going forward.

KG: How might practitioners, members of the built environment community, engage in this new, broader approach?

VM: In two words, radical collaboration. Because we share a materials palette, there is a growing alignment between many organizations and across disciplines as we come together to accelerate progress on embodied carbon.

New and updated resources and tools are becoming available to the design professionals, many of which are being produced through cross-organization and interdisciplinary collaborations. Uniting the efforts of architects with landscape architects, planners, and engineers is required in complex projects. It’s time this happens with climate action. We can all be part of changing the conversation and act together on the solutions for the built environment.

This article is part of the online edition of ARCHITECT's October 2023 issue.

Read more on building a greener world: Can We Halve Carbon in the Built Environment? | The Race to Decarbonize Buildings Is On. | Building on the Best of COP27. | Carbon intelligence for reuse decisions.