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Editor's letter

Moving towards a circular economy

Carbon emissions are expected to increase by 2.7 percent in 2018, according to new research, published by the Global Carbon Project. With the entire future of the world in serious jeopardy, architects must move fast to contribute to the solution

Magali Robathan, CLAD mag
Quay Quarter Tower: architects can make a difference

In the wake of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is warning that we have just 12 years to act in the face of global climate change to avoid catastrophe, the future of our planet has been a frequent topic of conversation in our house.

The other day, my 10-year-old son burst into tears and said he worries all the time about the future. I understand his fears; it’s easy to become overwhelmed in the face of the challenges ahead.

He’s not alone – the American Psychological Association has validated ‘eco-anxiety’ as a clinically legitimate diagnosis.

We’re approaching crisis point when it comes to the environment. Now is the time for us all to take serious action.

Architecture has a key role to play when it comes to averting climate catastrophe, as our built environment is one of the world’s biggest consumers of raw materials and a major producer of waste and carbon emissions.

To comfort my son, I told him that what gives me hope is the fact that every day I speak to people in the profession who are working to come up with real solutions.

I’m not talking about a token green roof or solar panels on an otherwise unsustainable building – because I see plenty of projects that are green in name only. I’m talking about people who are taking this issue seriously, and who are coming up with ingenious, practical ideas that will actually make a difference.

In this issue, I interview Kim Herforth Nielsen, founder of Danish architectural practice 3XN. Herforth Nielsen and his team established in-house green think tank GXN in 2000, with the aim of researching sustainable materials and building methods.

The team at GXN are particularly interested in the circular economy model, which sees buildings designed so that when they come to the end of their useful life, they can be dismantled and the materials which were used to construct them reused.

Arup has teamed up with GXN and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to produce First Steps towards a Circular Economy, a report exploring how circular economy principles can be translated into everyday practice.

Construction is underway on the 3XN-designed Quay Quarter Tower in Sydney, in collaboration with Arup. This project sees two thirds of the original tower retained, while materials from the demolished third are being reused in the new building. It’s great to see an example of circular economy principles being applied.

It’s time to move away from a make/use/dispose economy which too often sees building components ending up in landfill and to recognise that natural resources are finite, and we simply can’t continue to use them the way we have been.

Our planet is changing. Architecture must too.

Originally published in CLADmag 2018 issue 4
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