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Sustainability Built Environment

Area: Design, planning and building

Sustainability of the built environment

The emergence of the contemporary environmental movement between the 1960s and 1970s and its proposals to remedy the consequences of pollution can be seen as one of the first steps in addressing environmental problems (Scoones, 2007). However, the term “sustainable” only gained wider currency when it was introduced into political discourse by the Club of Rome with its 1972 report “The Limits to Growth”, in which the proposal to change growth trends to be sustainable in the far future was put forward (Grober, 2007; Kopnina & Shoreman-Ouimet, 2015a; Meadows et al., 1972). Since then, the use of the term has grown rapidly, especially after the publication of the 1978 report “Our Common Future”, which became a cornerstone of debates on sustainability and sustainable development (Brundtland et al., 1987; Kopnina & Shoreman-Ouimet, 2015a). Although the two terms are often used indistinctively, the former refers to managing resources without depleting them for future generations, while the latter aims to improve long-term economic well-being and quality of life without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs (Kopnina & Shoreman-Ouimet, 2015b; UNESCO, 2015). The Brundtland Report paved the way for the 1992 Earth Summit, which concluded that an effective balance must be found between consumption and conservation of natural resources (Scoones, 2007). In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly published the 8 Millennium Development Goals (UN, 2000), which led to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) published in 2016 (UN, 2016). The 17 SDGs call on all countries to mobilise their efforts to end all forms of poverty, tackle inequalities and combat climate change (UN, 2020; UNDP, 2018).

Despite the rapidly growing literature on sustainability, the term remains ambiguous and lacks a clear conceptual foundation (Grober, 2007; Purvis et al., 2019). Murphy (2012) suggests that when defining sustainability, the question should be: Sustainability, of what? However, one of the most prominent interpretations of sustainability is the three pillars concept, which describes the interaction between the social, economic and environmental components of society (Purvis et al., 2019). The environmental pillar aims to improve human well-being by protecting natural capital -e.g. land, air and water- (Morelli, 2011). The economic sustainability pillar focuses on maintaining stable economic growth without damaging natural resources (Dunphy et al., 2000). Social sustainability, on the other hand, aims to preserve social capital and create a practical social framework that provides a comprehensive view of people's needs, communities and culture (Diesendorf, 2000). This latter pillar paved the way for the creation of a fourth pillar that includes human and culture as a focal point in sustainability objectives (RMIT, 2017).

Jabareen (2006) describes environmental sustainability as a dynamic, inclusive and multidisciplinary concept that overlaps with other concepts such as resilience, durability and renewability. Morelli (2011) adds that it can be applied at different levels and includes tangible and intangible issues. Portney (2015) takes Morelli's explanation further and advocates that environmental sustainability should also promote industrial efficiency without compromising society's ability to develop (Morelli, 2011; Portney, 2015).

Measuring the built environment sustainability level is a complex process that deploys quantitative methods, including (1) indexes (e.g. energy efficiency rate), (2) indicators (e.g. carbon emissions and carbon footprint), (3) benchmarks (e.g. water consumption per capita) and (4) audits (e.g. building management system efficiency) (Arjen, 2015; Berardi, 2012; James, 2014; Kubba, 2012). In recent years, several rating or certification systems and practical guides have been created and developed to measure sustainability, most notably the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) introduced in the UK in 1990 (BRE, 2016) and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) established in the US in 2000 (USGBC, 2018). In addition, other overlapping methodologies and certification frameworks have emerged, such as the European Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) in 2002 (EPB, 2003) and the European Framework for Sustainable Buildings, also known as Level(s) in 2020 (EU, 2020), amongst others.

The sustainability of the built environment aims to reduce human consumption of natural resources and the production of waste while improving the health and comfort of inhabitants and thus the performance of the built environment elements such as buildings and spaces, and the infrastructure that supports human activities (Berardi, 2012; McLennan, 2004). This aim requires an effective theoretical and practical framework that encompasses at least six domains, including land, water, energy, indoor and outdoor environments, and economic and cultural preservation (Ferwati et al., 2019). More recently, other domains have been added, such as health and comfort, resource use, environmental performance, and cost-benefit and risk (EU, 2020). Sustainability of the built environment also requires comprehensive coordination between the architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical and environmental systems of buildings in the design, construction and operation phases to improve performance and avoid unnecessary resource consumption (Yates & Castro-Lacouture, 2018).

References

Arjen, Y. (2015). Assessing and Measuring Environmental Impact and Sustainability. Elsevier, 221.

Berardi, U. (2012). Sustainability assessment in the construction sector: rating systems and rated buildings. Sustainable Development, 20(6), 411-424.

BRE. (2016). All about BREEAM. Building Research Establishment. Retrieved November from https://bregroup.com/buzz/all-about-breeam/#:~:text=Since%20its%20launch%20in%201990,of%20quality%20for%20sustainable%20construction.

Brundtland, G., Khalid, M., Agnelli, S., Al-Athel, S., Chidzero, B., Fadika, L., Hauff, V., Lang, I., Shijun, M., & de Botero, M. M. (1987). Our common future (\'brundtland report\').

Diesendorf, M. (2000). Sustainability and sustainable development. In D. Dunphy, J. Benveniste, A. Griffiths, & P. Sutton (Eds.), Sustainability: The corporate challenge of the 21st century (Vol. 2, pp. 19-37). Allen & Unwin.

Dunphy, D., Benveniste, J., Griffiths, A., & Sutton, P. (2000). An introduction to the sustainable corporation. In Sustainability: The corporate challenge of the 21st century (Vol. 2, pp. 3-18). Allen & Unwin,.

EPB. (2003). Directive 2002/91/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2002 on the energy performance of buildings. Official Journal of the European Commission. Retrieved November from https://epb.center/epb-standards/energy-performance-buildings-directive-epbd/

EU. (2020). Official launch of Level(s) by the European Commission. Life Level(s). Retrieved November from https://lifelevels.eu/official-launch-of-levels-by-the-european-commission/#:~:text=On%20the%2015th%20of,European%20framework%20for%20sustainable%20buildings.

Ferwati, M. S., Al Saeed, M., Shafaghat, A., & Keyvanfar, A. (2019). Qatar Sustainability Assessment System (QSAS)-Neighborhood Development (ND) Assessment Model: Coupling green urban planning and green building design. Journal of building engineering, 22, 171-180.

Grober, U. (2007). Deep roots: A conceptual history of 'sustainable development' (Nachhaltigkeit). Discussion papers // Beim Präsidenten, Emeriti Projekte, Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung, No. P 2007-002, http://hdl.handle.net/10419/50254. https://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/50254/1/535039824.pdf

Jabareen, Y. R. (2006). Sustainable urban forms: Their typologies, models, and concepts. Journal of planning education and research, 26(1), 38-52.

James, P. (2014). Urban sustainability in theory and practice: circles of sustainability. Routledge.

Kopnina, H., & Shoreman-Ouimet, E. (2015a). The emergence and development of sustainability. In Sustainability: key issues (pp. 4-393). Routledge.

Kopnina, H., & Shoreman-Ouimet, E. (2015b). Sustainability: key issues. Routledge.

Kubba, S. (2012). Handbook of green building design and construction: LEED, BREEAM, and Green Globes. Butterworth-Heinemann.

McLennan, J. F. (2004). The philosophy of sustainable design: The future of architecture. Ecotone publishing.

Meadows, D. H., Meadows, D. L., Randers, J., & Behrens III, W. W. (1972). The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome's Project on the Predicament of Mankind. Universe, New York.

Morelli, J. (2011). Environmental sustainability: A definition for environmental professionals. Journal of environmental sustainability, 1(1), 2.

Portney, K. E. (2015). Sustainability. MIT Press.

Purvis, B., Mao, Y., & Robinson, D. (2019). Three pillars of sustainability: in search of conceptual origins. Sustainability Science, 14(3), 681-695.

RMIT. (2017). The four pillars of sustainability. RMIT University. Retrieved October from https://www.futurelearn.com/info/courses/sustainable-business/0/steps/78337

Scoones, I. (2007). Sustainability. Development in practice, 17(4-5), 589-596.

UN. (2000). United Nations Millennium Development Goals. United Nations. Retrieved October from https://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/bkgd.shtml

UN. (2016). Sustainable development goals report. United Nations. https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2016/the%20sustainable%20development%20goals%20report%202016.pdf

UN. (2020). The Sustainable Development Goals. United Nations.

UNDP. (2018, 2019). From MDGs to SDGs. United Nations Development Programme. https://www.sdgfund.org/mdgs-sdgs#:~:text=The%20Rio%2B20%20conference%20(the,global%20development%20framework%20beyond%202015.

UNESCO. (2015). Sustainable Development. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Retrieved Mars from

USGBC. (2018). The history of LEED. U.S. Green Building Council. Retrieved November from https://www.usgbc.org/about/mission-vision

Yates, J. K., & Castro-Lacouture, D. (2018). Sustainability in engineering design and construction. CRC Press.

Created on 24-06-2022 | Update on 16-11-2022

Related definitions

Social Sustainability

Author: A.Panagidis (ESR8)

Area: Community participation

From the three pillars of sustainable development, economic, environmental and social, the latter  involving social equity and the sustainability of communities, has  been especially neglected. Ongoing problems caused by conflicting economic, environmental and social goals with regard to the processes of urbanisation continue. underpinning economic growth that contradict principles of environmental and social justice (Boström, 2012; Cuthill, 2010; Winston, 2009). Research on sustainable development highlights the need for further investigation of social sustainability (Murphy, 2012; Vallance et al., 2011). Social sustainability has been interpreted as an umbrella term encompassing many other related concepts; “social equity and justice, social capital, social cohesion, social exclusion, environmental justice, quality of life, and urban liveability” (Shirazi & Keivani, 2019, p. 4). A vast number of studies have been dedicated to defining social sustainability by developing theoretical frameworks and indicators particularly relevant to urban development and housing discourse (Cuthill, 2010; Dempsey et al., 2011; Murphy, 2012; Woodcraft, 2012). However, with a lack of consensus on the way of utilising these frameworks in a practical way, especially when applied to planning, social sustainability has remained difficult to evaluate or measure. Consequently, planning experts, housing providers and inhabitants alike understand social sustainability as a normative concept, according to established social norms, and less as an opportunity to critically examine existing institutions. Vallance et al (2011) provide three categories to analyse social sustainability, development, bridge and maintenance sustainability: (a) social development improves conditions of poverty and inequity, from the provision of basic needs to the redistribution of power to influence existing development paradigms; (b) the conditions necessary to bridge social with ecological sustainability, overcoming currently disconnected social and ecological concerns; and (c) the social practices, cultural preferences as well as the environments which are maintained over time. Maintenance social sustainability particularly deals with how people interpret what is to be maintained and includes “new housing developments, the layout of streets, open spaces, residential densities, the location of services, an awareness of habitual movements in place, and how they connect with housing cultures, preferences, practices and values, particularly those for low-density, suburban lifestyles” (Vallance et al., 2011, p. 345). Therefore, the notion of maintenance is especially important in defining social sustainability by directly investigating the established institutions, or “sets of norms” that constitute the social practices and rules, that in turn, affect responsibilities for planning urban spaces. A conceptual framework that appears frequently in social sustainability literature is that of Dempsey et al. (2011)⁠ following Bramley et al. (2009), defining social sustainability according to the variables of social equity and sustainability of community and their relationship to urban form, significantly at the local scale of the neighbourhood. In terms of the built environment, social equity (used interchangeably with social justice) is understood as the accessibility and equal opportunities to frequently used services, facilities, decent and affordable housing, and good public transport. In this description of local, as opposed to regional services, proximity and accessibility are important. Equitable access to such local services effectively connects housing to key aspects of everyday life and to the wider urban infrastructures that support it. Sustainability of community is associated with the abilities of society to develop networks of collective organisation and action and is dependent on social interaction. The associated term social capital has also been used extensively to describe social norms and networks that can be witnessed particularly at the community level to facilitate collective action (Woolcock, 2001, p. 70). They might include a diversity of issues such as resident interaction, reciprocity, cooperation and trust expressed by common exchanges between residents, civic engagement, lower crime rates and other positive neighbourhood qualities that are dependent on sharing a commitment to place (Foster, 2006; Putnam, 1995; Temkin & Rohe, 1998). In fact, “the heightened sense of ownership and belonging to a locale” is considered to encourage the development of social relations (Hamiduddin & Adelfio, 2019, p. 188). However, the gap between theoretical discussions about social sustainability and their practical application has continued. For example, the emphasis of social sustainability as a target outcome rather than as a process has been prioritised in technocratic approaches to planning new housing developments and to measuring their success by factors which are tangible and easier to count and audit. Private housing developers that deal with urban regeneration make bold claims to social sustainability yet profound questions are raised regarding the effects of gentrification (Dixon, 2019). Accordingly, the attempted methods of public participation as planning tools for integrating the ‘social’ have been found to be less effective - their potential being undercut due to the reality that decision-making power has remained at the top (Eizenberg & Jabareen, 2017). Therefore, social sustainability is not a fixed concept, it is contingent on the interdependence of the procedural aspects (how to achieve social sustainability) and substantive aspects (what are the outcomes of social sustainability goals) (Boström, 2012). From this point of view, social sustainability reveals its process-oriented nature and the need to establish processes of practicing social sustainability that begin with the participation of citizens in decision-making processes in producing equitable (i.e. socially sustainable) development. As a dimension of sustainable development that is harder to quantify than the economic or environmental aspects, the operationalisation of social sustainability goals into spatial, actionable principles has remained a burgeoning area of research. In such research, methods for enhancing citizen participation are a particularly important concern in order to engage and empower people with “non-expert” knowledge to collaborate with academic researchers.

Created on 03-06-2022 | Update on 08-06-2022

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Transdisciplinarity

Author: A.Davis (ESR1)

Area: Community participation

Transdisciplinarity is a research methodology crossing several disciplinary boundaries, creating a holistic approach to solve complex problems. A transdisciplinary approach fosters bottom-up collaboration, provides an environment for mutual learning, and enhances the knowledge of all participants (Klein et al., 2001, Summary and Synthesis). Transdisciplinarity is a relatively young term, first used just over fifty years ago at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) congress by Jean Piaget, who described it in a broader sense as “a higher stage succeeding interdisciplinary relationships…without any firm boundaries between disciplines” (Piaget, 1972, p.135). Transdisciplinarity goes beyond interdisciplinarity through a fusion of academic and non- academic knowledge, theory and practice, discipline and profession (Doucet & Janssens, 2011). Stokols (2006) asserts transdisciplinarity is inextricability linked to action research; a term coined by Lewin (1946) as comparative research leading to social action. Lewin sought to empower and enhance the self-esteem of participants, which included residents of minority communities, through horizontal and democratic exchange between the researcher and participants. Familiar devices rooted in action research, such as surveys, questionnaires, and interviews are common in transdisciplinary research (Klein et al., 2001). A transdisciplinarity approach has been used to address complex global concerns in recent decades, beginning with climate change and extending into many areas including socio-political problems (Bernstein, 2015). Lawrence et al. (2010) stress that in addressing community related issues such as housing, it is crucial a transdisciplinary approach is adopted not only to integrate various expert opinions but to ensure the inclusion of affected communities such as the residents themselves. Housing is a complex social issue, therefore requiring such an approach to foster participation of non-academics to provide socially relevant solutions. Salama (2011) advocates for the use of transdisciplinarity in the creation of affordable and sustainable housing, which is often restricted by stakeholders working in silos, the oversimplification of housing-related issues, and a disconnect from local communities.

Created on 05-07-2022 | Update on 06-07-2022

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Life Cycle Costing

Author: A.Elghandour (ESR4)

Area: Design, planning and building

Life Cycle Costing (LCC) is a method used to estimate the overall cost of a building during its different life cycle stages, whether from cradle to grave or within a predetermined timeframe (Nucci et al., 2016; Wouterszoon Jansen et al., 2020). The Standardised Method of Life Cycle Costing (SMLCC) identifies LCC in line with the International Standard ISO 15686-5:2008 as "Methodology for the systematic economic evaluation of life cycle costs over a period of analysis, as defined in the agreed scope." (RICS, 2016). This evaluation can provide a useful breakdown of all costs associated with designing, constructing, operating, maintaining and disposing of this building (Dwaikat & Ali, 2018). Life cycle costs of an asset can be divided into two categories: (1) Initial costs, which are all the costs incurred before the occupation of the house, such as capital investment costs, purchase costs, and construction and installation costs (Goh & Sun, 2016; Kubba, 2010); (2) Future costs, which are those that occur after the occupancy phase of the dwelling. The future costs may involve operational costs, maintenance, occupancy and capital replacement (RICS, 2016). They may also include financing, resale, salvage, and end-of-life costs (Karatas & El-Rayes, 2014; Kubba, 2010; Rad et al., 2021). The costs to be included in a LCC analysis vary depending on its objective, scope and time period. Both the LCC objective and scope also determine whether the assessment will be conducted for the whole building, or for a certain building component or equipment (Liu & Qian, 2019; RICS, 2016). When LCC combines initial and future costs, it needs to consider the time value of money (Islam et al., 2015; Korpi & Ala-Risku, 2008). To do so, future costs need to be discounted to present value using what is known as "Discount Rate" (Islam et al., 2015; Korpi & Ala-Risku, 2008). LCC responds to the needs of the Architectural Engineering Construction (AEC) industry to recognise that value on the long term, as opposed to initial price, should be the focus of project financial assessments (Higham et al., 2015). LCC can be seen as a suitable management method to assess costs and available resources for housing projects, regardless of whether they are new or already exist. LCC looks beyond initial capital investment as it takes future operating and maintenance costs into account (Goh & Sun, 2016). Operating an asset over a 30-year lifespan could cost up to four times as much as the initial design and construction costs (Zanni et al., 2019). The costs associated with energy consumption often represent a large proportion of a building’s life cycle costs. For instance, the cumulative value of utility bills is almost half of the cost of a total building life cycle over a 50-year period in some countries (Ahmad & Thaheem, 2018; Inchauste et al., 2018). Prioritising initial cost reduction when selecting a design alternative, regardless of future costs, may not lead to an economically efficient building in the long run (Rad et al., 2021). LCC is a valuable appraising technique for an existing building to predict and assess "whether a project meets the client's performance requirements" (ISO, 2008). Similarly, during the design stages, LCC analysis can be applied to predict the long-term cost performance of a new building or a refurbishing project (Islam et al., 2015; RICS, 2016). Conducting LCC supports the decision-making in the design development stages has a number of benefits (Kubba, 2010). Decisions on building programme requirements, specifications, and systems can affect up to 80% of its environmental performance and operating costs (Bogenstätter, 2000; Goh & Sun, 2016). The absence of comprehensive information about the building's operational performance may result in uninformed decision-making that impacts its life cycle costs and future performance (Alsaadani & Bleil De Souza, 2018; Zanni et al., 2019). LCC can improve the selection of materials in order to reduce negative environmental impact and positively contribute to resourcing efficiency (Rad et al., 2021; Wouterszoon Jansen et al., 2020), in particular when combined with Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA is concerned with the environmental aspects and impacts and the use of resources throughout a product's life cycle (ISO, 2006). Together, LCC and LCA contribute to adopt more comprehensive decisions to promote the sustainability of buildings (Kim, 2014). Therefore, both are part of the requirements of some green building certificates, such as LEED (Hajare & Elwakil, 2020).     LCC can be used to compare design, material, and/or equipment alternatives to find economically compelling solutions that respond to building performance goals, such as maximising human comfort and enhancing energy efficiency (Karatas & El-Rayes, 2014; Rad et al., 2021). Such solutions may have high initial costs but would decrease recurring future cost obligations by selecting the alternative that maximises net savings (Atmaca, 2016; Kubba, 2010; Zanni et al., 2019). LCC is particularly relevant for decisions on energy efficiency measures investments for both new buildings and building retrofitting. Such investments have been argued to be a dominant factor in lowering a building's life cycle cost (Fantozzi et al., 2019; Kazem et al., 2021). The financial effectiveness of such measures on decreasing energy-related operating costs, can be investigated using LCC analysis to compare air-condition systems, glazing options, etc. (Aktacir et al., 2006; Rad et al., 2021). Thus, LCC can be seen as a risk mitigation strategy for owners and occupants to overcome challenges associated with increasing energy prices (Kubba, 2010). The price of investing in energy-efficient measures increase over time. Therefore, LCC has the potential to significantly contribute to tackling housing affordability issues by not only making design decisions based on the building's initial costs but also its impact on future costs – for example energy bills - that will be paid by occupants (Cambier et al., 2021). The input data for a LCC analysis are useful for stakeholders involved in procurement and tendering processes as well as the long-term management of built assets (Korpi & Ala-Risku, 2008). Depending on the LCC scope, these data are extracted from information on installation, operating and maintenance costs and schedules as well as the life cycle performance and the quantity of materials, components and systems, (Goh & Sun, 2016) These information is then translated into cost data along with each element life expectancy in a typical life cycle cost plan (ISO, 2008). Such a process assists the procurement decisions whether for buildings, materials, or systems and/or hiring contractors and labour, in addition to supporting future decisions when needed (RICS, 2016). All this information can be organised using Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology (Kim, 2014; RICS, 2016). BIM is used to organise and structure building information in a digital model. In some countries, it has become mandatory that any procured project by a public sector be delivered in a BIM model to make informed decisions about that project (Government, 2012). Thus, conducting LCC aligns with the adoption purposes of BIM to facilitate the communication and  transfer of building information and data among various stakeholders (Juan & Hsing, 2017; Marzouk et al., 2018). However, conducting LCC is still challenging and not widely adopted in practice. The reliability and various formats of building related-data are some of the main barriers hindering the adoption of LCCs (Goh & Sun, 2016; Islam et al., 2015; Kehily & Underwood, 2017; Zanni et al., 2019).

Created on 05-12-2022 | Update on 20-05-2023

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Building Decarbonisation

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5), K.Hadjri (Supervisor)

Area: Design, planning and building

Decarbonisation, a term which echoes through the corridors of academia, politics, practical applications, and stands at the forefront of contemporary discussions on sustainability. Intricately intertwined with concepts such as net-zero and climate neutrality, it represents a pivotal shift in our approach to environmental sustainability. In its essence, decarbonisation signifies the systematic reduction of carbon dioxide intensity, a crucial endeavour in the battle against climate change (Zachmann et al., 2021). This overview delves into the multifaceted concept of decarbonisation within the context of the European Union. Beginning with a broad perspective, we examine its implications at the macro level before homing in on the complexities of decarbonisation within the realm of building structures. Finally, we explore the literature insights, presenting key strategies that pave the way toward achieving a decarbonised building sector. From a broad perspective, decarbonisation is an overarching concept that aims to achieve climate neutrality (Zachmann et al., 2021, p.13). Climate neutrality means achieving a state of equilibrium between greenhouse gas emissions and their removal from the atmosphere, preventing any net increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration (IEA, 2022). From an energy decarbonisation perspective, however, in a document provided by the Economic, Scientific and Quality of Life Policy Department at the request of the Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee, Zachmann et al. (2021) explain that energy systems require a fundamental shift in the way societies provide, transport and consume energy (Zachmann et al., 2021). In the construct of decarbonisation, as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the focus lies on strategic directives aimed at reducing the carbon content of energy sources, fuels, products and services (Arvizu et al., 2011; Edenhofer et al., 2011). This complex process involves the transition from carbon-intensive behaviours, such as fossil fuel use, to low-carbon or carbon-neutral alternatives. The main goal of decarbonisation, therefore, is to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane, which are closely linked to the growing threats of climate change (Edenhofer et al., 2011). Hoeller et al. (2023) explain that decarbonisation efforts within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) focus on harmonising economic growth, energy production and consumption with climate objectives to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change while promoting sustainable development (Hoeller et al., 2023). From a pragmatic perspective, however, according to the OECD Policy Paper 31: A framework to decarbonise the economy, published in 2022,  progress on economic decarbonisation remains suboptimal. This raises the urgent need for a multi-dimensional framework that is not only cost-effective but also inclusive and comprehensive in its strategy for decarbonisation (D’Arcangelo et al., 2022). D’Arcangelo et al. (2023) add that such framework should include several steps such as setting clear climate targets, measuring progress and identifying areas for action, delineating policy frameworks, mapping existing policies, creating enabling conditions, facilitating a smooth transition for individuals, and actively engaging the public. From an academic perspective, Weller and Tierney (2018) provide an explanation of decarbonisation, defining it as a twofold concept. Firstly, it involves reducing the intensity of fossil fuel use for energy production. Secondly, it emphasises the role of policy in mitigating the negative externalities associated with such use. They argue that decarbonisation is a politically charged policy area that needs to be 'just', while also serving a means to revitalise local economies (Weller & Tierney, 2018). Kyriacou and Burke (2020) expand on this definition, highlighting decarbonisation as the transition from a high-carbon to a low-carbon energy system. This transition is driven by the need to mitigate climate change without compromising energy security. Boute (2021), on the other hand, emphasises the long-term structural reduction of CO2 emissions as the core strategy of decarbonisation. Boute adds that the effectiveness of decarbonisation must be measured in terms of a unit of energy consumed across all activities. In the economic context, the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies concludes that decarbonisation aims to reduce the carbon intensity of an economy. This reduction is quantified as the ratio of CO2 emissions to gross domestic product (Henderson & Sen, 2021). Addressing methodological concerns, Buettner (2022) added that decarbonisation is often misused as a generic term. Moreover, Buettner highlights the diverse levels at which decarbonisation occurs, ranging from carbon neutrality (focused on reducing CO2 emissions), to climate neutrality (aiming to reduce CO2, non-fluorinated greenhouse gases, and fluorinated greenhouse gases) and, finally, to environmental neutrality (which reduces all substances negatively impacting the environment and health) (Buettner, 2022). The debate on the decarbonisation of the construction sector revolves around similar issues. The report on Decarbonising Buildings in Cities and Regions, published by the OECD in 2022, defines the concept as reducing energy consumption by improving envelope insulation, installing high performance equipment, and scaling up the use of renewable sources to meet the energy demands (OECD, P24). Another definition comes from a working paper by the OECD Economics Department, Hoeller et al. (2023) contend, it is necessary to consider direct emissions from household fossil fuel combustion and indirect emissions from the generation of electricity and district heating used by households (Hoeller et al., 2023). The comprehensive study “Decarbonising Buildings” published by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) in 2022, defines the term as transforming the building sector to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Achieving this goal requires various technological solutions and behavioural changes to decarbonise heating and cooling, such as energy-efficient building envelopes, heat pumps and on-site renewables (CAT, 2022). Gratiot et al. (2023) consider decarbonisation as the process of reducing or eliminating CO2 emissions that contribute to climate change from a building’s energy sources. This involves systematically shifting buildings from carbon-intensive energy sources (e.g., gas, oil and coal) to low-carbon or carbon-neutral alternatives (e.g., solar, wind and geothermal). This process includes improving the energy efficiency of buildings through better insulation, lighting and appliances (Gratiot et al., 2023). Blanco et al. (2021) consider the decarbonisation of buildings and operation of buildings. This includes enhancing the energy efficiency of buildings and minimizing embodied carbon from building materials and construction activities of greenhouse gas emissions from the construction and operation of buildings. Achieving a decarbonised building sector is a multifaceted endeavour that demands extensive efforts in several key areas, such as energy sources, building envelope, building policy and transformation funds. The objective of the energy transition is to shift from reliance on fossil fuels to clean or renewable energy sources, primarily used for heating and cooling, such as heat pumps, district heating, hydrogen (Jones, 2021). Decarbonising the building envelope, on the other hand, involves improving the energy efficiency of buildings through better insulation, lighting and appliances. It also necessitates minimising embodied carbon from building materials and construction activities (CAT, 2022; D’Arcangelo et al., 2022). Incorporating effective policies into building construction is crucial. This includes adopting of performance standards and building codes that regulate the energy use and emissions of both new and existing buildings. These regulations directly impact the extent and pace of decarbonisation (CAT, 2022; Jones, 2021). Additionally, it is essential to establish a clear vision and climate targets for the buildings sector and operationalise them with a comprehensive policy mix that encompass emissions pricing, standards, regulations and complementary measures (Jones, 2021). The most significant challenge lies in financing the transition to a decarbonised sector. Therefore, it is imperative to mobilise finance on a large scale and collaborate with industry stakeholders. This collaboration is vital to facilitate the transition, overcome barriers, and manage the costs associated with deploying low- or zero-carbon technologies (D’Arcangelo et al., 2022). In summary, the overarching concept of decarbonisation primarily targets the reduction of carbon dioxide in economic and industrial activities, with a focus on energy production and distribution systems. At the building level, the emphasis lies in integrating low-carbon or carbon-neutral systems to minimise both direct and indirect emissions. Nevertheless, the literature examined indicates that other societal aspects, including social and behavioural factors, have not been thoroughly researched. This gap in knowledge could challenge the realisation of the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 and underscores the need for further studies in these areas.

Created on 06-11-2023 | Update on 06-11-2023

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Open Building

Author: C.Martín (ESR14)

Area: Design, planning and building

Open Building is a term that was coined in the mid-1980s but is rooted in ideas from some twenty years earlier, when John Habraken first introduced the Support/Infill concept as a response to the rigidity and uniformity of the post-war mass-housing produced in the Netherlands (Habraken, 1961). Its fundamental principle involves separating the supporting structure of a building, considered a collective resource designed for durability, from the infill components, such as the walls and partitions that can be easily adapted to individual preferences and changing needs. This design approach places a strong emphasis on flexibility and adaptability, allowing buildings to evolve over time and be effortlessly modified or renovated to meet changing requirements. Furthermore, it encourages the participation of building occupants in the design and management of their homes, and it emphasizes the importance of creating buildings that are well-suited to their local context (Kendall, 2021). The Open Building concept introduces a holistic approach to enhancing the adaptability of the built environment, considering social, technical, and organizational aspects (Cuperus, 2001). From a social perspective, Open Building advocates for an open architecture that empowers users to customize their living spaces according to their needs and preferences, accommodating unforeseen changes in the future. On an organisational level, it proposes a redistribution of the design control, enabling top-down decisions to establish a framework within which bottom-up processes can thrive. Lastly, from a technical perspective, it pursues a systematisation of building that allows for the installation, upgrading, or removal of industrialized sub-systems with minimal implications for the overall stability of the building. This approach addresses some of the pressing challenges of the construction industry, offering the potential to enhance housing affordability and sustainability. By allowing greater flexibility in interior design and layouts, spaces can be easily reconfigured to meet changing needs, encouraging a shift towards long-term planning and fostering adaptable, future-ready living environments. Moreover, this strategy reduces the need for costly renovations and discourages demolitions, thus improving construction resilience and facilitating the seamless integration of new technologies. It successfully aligns the diverse objectives of multiple stakeholders, providing builders with a consistent support system, offering developers the freedom to experiment with layouts and ensure long-term functional performance, and granting users the possibility to make personalized choices. For decades, this inherent adaptability has been successfully applied in diverse building types, including shopping centres, office buildings, and hospitals. These buildings necessitate facilities that are 'change-ready', capable of accommodating changes over time, with a focus on long-term adaptability rather than short-term design adequacy (Kendall, 2017; Leupen, 2004). Open Building promotes environmental sustainability through its ‘levels concept’, acknowledging that building components have varying lifespans. The disentanglement and clarity of these hierarchical levels and their interfaces promotes the longevity of infrastructures while enabling incremental renewal and innovation, an increasingly common need in the construction sector. Higher levels provide a framework for the lower levels, setting the overall parameters and constraints in which the lower ones can operate (Habraken, 1998). Additionally, Open Building encourages the separation of building elements into the ‘Shearing layers of change’ articulated by Steward Brand in 1994 (Brand, 1994). These layers provide flexibility and adaptability to the buildings as they can be designed, built, and maintained independently from each other, facilitating design for disassembly practices. Additionally, through a modular coordination of standardised components, not only it is possible to increase the collaboration in the design and construction process of housing, but also to encourage a proliferation of technical subsystems that can be continuously upgraded and scaled-up within an open framework (Kendall & Dale, 2023b). In the housing realm, a key difference between traditional design and the Open Building approach is their underlying methods. Traditional design examines diverse household types and lifestyles from an anthropologic perspective, suggesting various typologies. In contrast, Open Building focuses on creating an open system with no predefined designs. Instead, it operates with a framework of rules, zones and categories to enable the customisation of each dwelling by the user (Habraken, 1976). The adoption of Open Building was a response to the rigidity and waste caused by continued adherence to functionalism where buildings were designed according to the “form-follows-function” principle and became obsolete or impractical for the coming generations and costly to maintain. On the other hand, open architecture can cater to local and cultural demands, embracing the complexity of the built environment by acknowledging that it cannot be fully controlled or shaped by a single agent (Kendall, 2013; Kendall & Dale, 2023a; Paulichen et al., 2019). This encourages community involvement in the design and construction process, creating a sense of ownership and fostering inclusivity. There are many examples across Europe of residential Open Building such as Gleis 21 in Austria, R50 Cohousing in Germany, or Stories in Netherlands. Other cases have been developed as open systems rather than individual projects, replicated and adapted to diverse locations but following the same strategy, as for example the Superlofts by Mark Koehler Architects, which since 2016 has built seven projects in the Netherlands out of this system. Determining whether a project is an Open Building and the degree of flexibility it offers can be measured through a classification chart developed by the Open Building Collective, which is based in the principles showcased in their Manifesto. The dissemination of these exemplary projects through publications (Schneider & Till, 2007), awards, conferences and the Open Building Collective, has stimulated the exchange of knowledge between researchers, practitioners and other stakeholders, spreading the interest in this concept and its practical implementation. Despite its potential benefits, the implementation of Open Building in multi-family housing faces challenges due to entrenched traditional practices, regulatory barriers favouring fixed layouts, and the short-term perspectives among developers, investors, and clients (De Paris & Lopes, 2018; Montaner et al., 2015). However, successful Open Building projects around the globe demonstrate that its capacity to address holistically the social, technical, and organizational aspects of a changing society. It encourages the space appropriation at the infill level while ensuring resilience and robustness in the support level, fostering enduring and inclusive buildings that allow diverse households to coexist and evolve over time (Kendall, 2022).

Created on 14-11-2023 | Update on 15-11-2023

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