Five things architects can do tomorrow to limit climate change

The Architects Journal asked leaders in the sustainability field what immediate steps architects could take towards achieving a zero-carbon built environment in the near future

1) The default position should always be to retrofit existing buildings

The best way to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings is not to build them at all.

As an industry we must minimise demolition wherever possible and maximise reuse of existing structures. Radically transforming a building creates inspiring and joyful spaces which are full of both history and future promise.
As a profession, we must take it for granted that such retrofit schemes should be well insulated, well lit, airtight and sustainably heated.

This approach could be encouraged with across-the-board incentives. Remodelling an existing building is currently accompanied by 20 per cent VAT while it’s zero for new-build projects.

This should be reversed and the government could further subsidise the upgrading of a building’s thermal performance. It could introduce a carbon tax on materials or a carbon credit on recycled buildings, which might encourage people to recycle as much as possible. When you take a building apart in Switzerland you must separate out materials so they can be recycled. This is a very time-consuming process but the decision to demolish is taken with this in mind.

With some relatively straightforward changes to legislation we can prioritise and celebrate the reuse of existing buildings and make the process more profitable. Local communities would prefer to see their much-loved streets preserved; while making buildings more energy-efficient is better for the environment while reducing costs as fuel prices soar.

2) Reduce the use of concrete by three quarters immediately

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