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Talking sustainability at the UIA World Congress of Architects

Copenhagen, Denmark

Moderated by architecture journalist Amy Frearson and joined by renowned figures in the Danish architecture scene, the UIA World Congress of Architects panel explored tangible ways the industry can reduce its impact on climate change.

“From 4 to 1 Planet” – a collection of explorative pavilions aimed at reducing climate impact from residential buildings to a fourth of the current level (credit: Rune Svenningsen)

Did you know that natural resources in Denmark are exploited four times more than our planet can provide? That includes the materials and energy used to design, build, and maintain the buildings we live and spend our time in — from our homes to office spaces, gyms, museums, and the list goes on.  

Considering that the construction sector accounts for nearly 40% of carbon emissions globally, it is safe to say that there's an urgent need for AEC professionals to reassess their impact on climate change while collaborating on solutions for sustainable, healthier buildings within the limits of our planet. 

A worldwide call to action

Inspired by this call to action, Trimble SketchUp hosted a sustainability talk at the 2023 UIA World Congress of Architects in Copenhagen, which was appointed the UNESCO UIA World Capital of Architecture 2023. In its 28th year, the congress' main theme revolved around making architecture a central tool in achieving the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. As a result, the Danish city was a vibrant stage for events that celebrated sustainable urban development, such as the SDG Pavilions experimental projects. 

SketchUp’s talk took place inside ReVærk’s concept, an aesthetically and functionally convincing homemade from alternative materials, including rammed earth. (credit: Rune Svenningsen)

Tegnestuen LOKAL presented the Quarter Pie pavilion, an example of a mass housing concept that aimed to combine alternative approaches to construction with new approaches to living. (credit: Rune Svenningsen)

CINARK presented a home in thatched brick blocks which combined conventional and biobased materials. (credit: Rune Svenningsen)

Celebrating sustainable urban development

Each SDG pavilion was a collaboration between architects, engineers, material producers, science institutions, associations, and foundations who worked together on architecture experiments that address climate change. For the panel discussion, SketchUp partnered with the architecture practices and educational body in the "From 4 to 1 Planet” collection of pavilions. This initiative demonstrated three ways the next generation of architects can reduce climate impact from residential buildings to one-fourth of the current level. 

The insights shared during the discussion left the audience with an uplifted view along with an understanding of how architecture, design, and technology can drive positive change for the sake of the planet. (credit: Rune Svenningsen)

Moderated by renowned architecture and design journalist Amy Frearson, the talk, 'The climate footprint of buildings is a design problem: it's time architects dealt with it,' explored tangible solutions architects could — and should — explore to conceptualize and achieve sustainable design. 

Hugh McEvoy speaking at the UIA World Congress of Architects panel (credit: Rune Svenningsen)

A sustainable conversation 

Hugh McEvoy, SketchUp's senior director of strategy and business development and sustainability lead, was joined by Christopher Carlsen, owner of Tegnestuen LOKAL, Simeon Østerlund Bamford, Founding Partner at Reværk, and Professor Anne Beim, head of the Center for Industrialized Architecture at CINARK. 

The talk started with briefly introducing the main challenges and solutions presented in the "From 4 to 1" pavilions. The conversation then moved on to address architecture's impact on climate change, including using conventional yet harmful materials such as concrete, the short life cycle of buildings, a high incidence of material waste, and the lack of design for disassembly.  

In Hugh's view, architects can tackle all of the above issues if they make holistic decisions powered by technology and data intelligence. It's not enough to address one aspect of architectural design, for example, material specification, without having complete visibility of how that decision will impact other project elements. Analyzing building elements individually rather than as connected systems ignores how these elements interact to deliver the final experience. 

Hugh McEvoy speaking with attendees at the UIA World Congress of Architects panel. (credit: Rune Svenningsen)

For example, a building’s façade and HVAC system interact in complex ways. A well-designed façade might be more expensive than a less-sophisticated one. Still, it can substantially reduce peak energy needs (heating and/or cooling) and therefore reduce HVAC size requirements, operating costs, and emissions. HVAC systems represent a substantial proportion of a building’s operation costs and contribute hugely to emissions, so there are gains to be had. However, replacing that ‘fancy’ façade with a cheaper option, independently of considering the broader system, may result in a cheaper façade but a more expensive (to buy and run) HVAC system.

Decisions powered by data

Making design decisions in isolation can compromise a building’s sustainability goals. Fortunately, architects are well positioned to articulate their recommendations' value — from both aesthetic and performance perspectives — so that great ideas don’t go to waste. Powered by data intelligence such as the local climate, latitude, embodied carbon of building materials, and energy performance analysis of design alternatives, architects can make innovative decisions that are kinder to the environment. 

The research and technology exist for architects to begin the transformation now. The next step is to work on collective strategies and new education systems about how change can be achieved. Ultimately, the insights shared during the discussion left the audience with an uplifted view and an understanding of how architecture, design, and technology can drive positive change for the planet's sake. 

The tools you need to get started

Use SketchUp to design and plan for all your sustainability goals. PreDesign, SketchUp's early-stage design research tool, is included in both Pro and Studio subscriptions. Add Sefaira to your toolkit for next-level building analysis, and run performance simulations to optimize for carbon emissions, daylighting, thermal comfort, and more. Take all of SketchUp's design tools for a test drive with a free trial

About the Author

We’re the folks who work on SketchUp, so we spend most of our time thinking about how to make drawing in 3D better. We also enjoy nerf gun wars, disc golf, board games, coffee, beer, donuts, and looking at mountains. A few of us eat quinoa.

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