Commentaries

Publishing Books: Some Advice and Warnings

How might an author choose an appropriate publisher and what are some of the processes involved in creating a book?

Philip Steadman (University College London) has authored a dozen books over 50 years. Reflecting on his own experiences, he offers some advice to new authors planning to publish books about architecture and building.

Christopher Alexander and 'Notes on the Synthesis of Form'

First published in 1964 and based on his doctoral thesis, this book puts forward a systematic method for designing products, buildings or settlements.

Philip Steadman (University College London) revisits and critiques this influential book by Christopher Alexander (1936-2022). Its method relies in part on the mathematics of set and graph theory, together with a computer technique for analysing complex systems and dividing them into their component sub-systems.

Christopher Alexander's Pursuit of Living Structure in Cities

The Cartesian mechanistic worldview is essentially unable to create living cities. Lessons about connections can help to make cities more sustainable.

Bin Jiang (University of Gävle) reflects on Christopher Alexander’s (1936-2022) pursuit of living environments with a recurring notion of far more small substructures than large substructures.

Embodied Carbon: Breaking Construction Dependencies

Viable alternatives exist to reduce the use of concrete in construction.

Does concrete have to be used widely? Given the large amounts of GHGs generated by concrete, what alternative materials and design optimisations exist? Ronita Bardhan (University of Cambridge) and Ramit Debnath (University of Cambridge) discuss some options for how we can immediately reduce concrete consumption.

Building without concrete?

Building without concrete?

Concrete has been used as a lazy solution for every problem in the built environment. We can reduce our dependency and use of concrete.

After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on earth. The huge environmental burden of concrete is generally assumed to be necessary, and much research is being devoted to reducing the carbon costs of manufacture. Robyn Pender argues we should ask deeper questions: How much do buildings truly require concrete? And do we deploy it wisely?

Rethinking IEQ Standards for a Warming Post-COVID World

Are standards promoting air conditioning and marginalising natural ventilation?

Current codes are making buildings more reliant on air-conditioning at the expense of natural ventilation and other cooling solutions. Adam Rysanek (University of British Columbia) explains why this should be countered. Revolutionising codes in a manner that widens the responsibility of architects and engineers to deliver IEQ is urgently needed in advance of future public health crises and the climate emergency.

Transitioning to Zero-Carbon Buildings

What is needed to make today's buildings zero-carbon ready?

The urgency to radically reduce primary energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions during the life cycle of buildings is undisputed. The ultimate goal is a building stock which does not rely upon GHG emissions and compensates for any remaining emissions using effective and acknowledged measures (Lützkendorf & Frischknecht 2020). Thomas Lützkendorf (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) and Rolf Frischknecht (Treeze Ltd) explore the implications for making buildings now that are zero-carbon-ready.

Structural Engineering and Carbon Footprints of CLT Buildings

Cross-laminated timber is a promising low-carbon structural solution. Research into its service life will create confidence and improve its competitiveness.

Ambrose Dodoo, Michael Dorn, Anders Olsson, Thomas K. Bader (Linnaeus University, Sweden) explain the potential of cross-laminated timber (CLT). This relatively new building technology makes it possible to construct tall wood-frame multi-storey buildings. However, the current generation of CLT-based buildings have yet to reach mid-service life. Accordingly, CLT is a subject of growing research to address open issues related to material efficiency, construction and connections, long-term structural performance and life cycle climate impacts. Efficient structural engineering design and solutions present opportunities to reduce the carbon footprint of CLT buildings.

Housing Adaptability: Some Past Lessons

Past research on housing is still relevant to today's research and policy agendas.

The issues of how housing can be adaptable are not new.  Construction historian Andrew Rabeneck reflects on research and practice from the 1970s that should be included in current conversations. Several different strategies exist: Limited Flexibility, Full Flexibililty, Build On (at a later date), Build In (at a later date), Adaptability (through the provision of extra space). One of the simplest and least cost options is the enhanced space provision i.e. an increase in room areas of up to 10% and looseness of fit – allowing ‘occupant choice through ambiguity’, with minimum predetermination of patterns of use.

COP26 & Beyond: What Role for Cities?

Were the needs and demands of cities and local governments marginalised in their roles and representation at COP26?

The 26th UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow represented a decisive moment in history. Five years after Paris, it was a moment of reckoning – had countries delivered on their promises? It was also the last chance for political leaders to raise GHG reduction targets to prevent global warming above 1.5 oC. Linda Westman (University of Sheffield) reflects on COP26 and the prospects for cities and local governments.

Why Building Regulations Must Incorporate Embodied Carbon

By Harpa Birgisdóttir (Aalborg University Copenhagen, DK)

Building regulations are important drivers for change. They have been focused on reducing the operational energy in buildings. This is now changing in some countries as evidence shows the significant amount of embodied emissions in construction materials. Additional new requirements are setting targets for embodied carbon in buildings and whole-life carbon assessments in order to decarbonise the built environment. Regulations are being implemented in Netherlands, France and Denmark, and planned in Finland and Sweden.

COP-26: A Commitment to Regulate Embodied Carbon

By Jane Anderson (ConstructionLCA, UK)

Although COP26 is focused on actions by state governments, their commitments are often underpinned by industry. The complexity of embodied carbon in buildings depends on regulation and standards, manufacturer compliance, professional engagement and clear methods / data. We must raise embodied carbon literacy and capabilities across the construction industry to expedite readiness for regulation. Several steps are required and some are already underway.

COP-26: Engaging Built Environment Professionals to Support Climate Justice

By Sonja Klinsky (Arizona State University, US) and Anna Mavrogianni (University College London, UK)

COP26 provides an opportunity to reflect on how the built environment community can facilitate deeper efforts towards adequate climate justice actions. Although the focus during COP26 will be on state governments, their commitments depend on consistent efforts pursued by non-state actors. Climate justice requires commitment from the built environment community who are obliged to act in the public interest. Opportunities are suggested for key actors that are well-placed to contribute to these efforts: universities and higher education, professional associations and local authorities.

COP-26: Make Nature-Based Solutions a Top Adaptation Priority

By Timon McPhearson (The New School, US)

Natural infrastructure is a critical urban infrastructure that provides fundamental and irreplaceable services for human health, wellbeing, and livelihoods. Urban development must quickly shift away from the dominant 20th century model that exacerbates hazards and risks by paving over urban ecological infrastructure. Firm commitments at COP-26 are needed to radically increase investments in nature-based solutions in cities: restoring, conserving and investing in green and blue infrastructure assets. This will reduce the impacts of climate change as part of an adaptation strategy and also improve wellbeing.

Cities as Climate Saviours? Political Strategy Ahead of COP-26

By Linda K. Westman (University of Sheffield, UK)

Will cities play a key role at COP26 in Glasgow? This commentary examines three arguments about the importance of cities in delivering effective global climate action. Each argument is developed in relation to the negotiating position and political strategy of the UNFCCC Local Government and Municipal Authority (LGMA) constituency (LGMA, 2019).

Healing Cities: Toward Urban Climate Justice & Slum Health

By Jason Corburn (University of California, Berkeley, US)

The overlapping crises of climate change, COVID-19, and persistent social inequities are acutely felt in cities, particularly among the poor and already vulnerable. Urban climate justice demands a focused strategy to support the healing of these vulnerable communities while also creating new opportunities for them to co-lead more equitable climate resiliency strategies. COP-26 must address ‘healing cities for climate justice;’ or the need for urgent investments with (not on or for) already vulnerable people and places in order to eliminate existing suffering and urban traumas, while also planning for future prosperity.

Why Digital Building Passports Are Vital for Change

By Thomas Lützkendorf (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, DE), Ursula Hartenberger (PathTo2050, BE), York Ostermeyer (Chalmers U, SE)

COP-26 is about showcasing action and replicable, practical solutions that will accelerate market transformation. Climate action must become incorporated into the regular activities of the construction and real estate sectors. The way to achieve this is to incentivise a systematic and transparent approach to building-related information which can accelerate and reward stakeholder action. The building passport can accomplish this by creating a “living document”. In first instance, governments should set an example by making building passports mandatory for public buildings and then consecutively roll it out across other building typologies and market segments.

Adapt or Retreat? Developing a Long-Term Regional Planning Strategy

By Ellen van Bueren (Delft University of Technology, NL)

The delegates at COP-26 should now fully direct their attention to creating agreements and action plans. This creates a momentum to start planning our urban futures with a long-term perspective, in tune with the changing climate. The emphasis on adaptation is not always an appropriate option as it has unintended consequences which compound risks and can lead to a downward spiral of neighbourhoods and cities. A public debate is needed to develop clarity on when and where adaptation or managed retreat are appropriate. We need to ask: how can city regions develop in a resilient way, what assets should be preserved, at what costs and how do we protect vulnerable citizens?

Climate Adaptation in Cities: Planning for Heat Vulnerability

By Rohinton Emmanuel (Glasgow Caledonian University, UK)

Urban warming creates a ‘double jeopardy’ on a majority of humans (urban heat island and global warming). Sufficient information exists to identify where local action is most needed to protect those who are most vulnerable. As a matter of urgency, COP-26, national governments and local authorities need to address heat vulnerability by identifying vulnerable areas and implementing changes in planning practices.

Adapting our Cities and Urban Planning to Climate Change: Microclimates

By Michael Donn (Victoria University Wellington, NZ)

The complex and dynamic interactions between 3-D built form and the local environment must be accounted for in planning decisions to create pleasant, resilience microclimates for now and the future. Present planning procedures are over-simplistic and unsuitable. New approaches are suggested.

Latest Peer-Reviewed Journal Content

Journal Content

An alternative approach to delivering safe, sustainable surgical theatre environments
C A Short, A W Woods, L Drumright, R Zia & N Mingotti

Adapting owner-occupied dwellings in the UK: lessons for the future
T Hipwood

Integrating low energy cooling & ventilation strategies in Indian residences
M J Cook, Y Shukla, R Rawal, C Angelopoulos, L Caruggi-De-Faria, D Loveday, E Spentzou, & J Patel

Balconies as adaptable spaces in apartment housing
T Peters & S Masoudinejad

Inclusive Living: ageing, adaptations and future-proofing homes
V McCall

Residential geothermal air-conditioning: inhabitants’ comfort, behaviour and energy use
L Thomas, A Woods, R Powles, P Kalali, & S Wilkinson

Energy retrofit and passive cooling: overheating and air quality in primary schools
D Grassie, Y Schwartz, P Symonds, I Korolija, A Mavrogianni & D Mumovic

Outdoor PM2.5 air filtration: optimising indoor air quality and energy
E Belias & D Licina

Architects’ ‘enforced togetherness’: new design affordances of the home
E Marco, M Tahsiri, D Sinnett & S Oliveira

Overheating assessment in Passivhaus dwellings: the influence of prediction tools
V L Goncalves, V Costanzo, K Fabbri & T Rakha

The use of apartment balconies: context, design & social norms
M Smektała & M Baborska-Narożny

Sharing a home under lockdown in London
F Blanc & K Scanlon

Projected climate data for building design: barriers to use
P Rastogi, A Laxo, L Cecil &D Overbey

Residents’ views on adaptable housing: a virtual reality-based study
J Tarpio & S Huuhka

Technological transitions in climate control: lessons from the House of Lords
Henrik Schoenefeldt

Internal thermal mass for passive cooling and ventilation: adaptive comfort limits, ideal quantities, embodied carbon
T de Toldi, S Craig & L Sushama

Understanding air-conditioned lives: qualitative insights from Doha
Russell Hitchings

Living with air-conditioning: experiences in Dubai, Chongqing & London
N Murtagh, S Badi, Y Shi, S Wei, W Yu

Air-conditioning in New Zealand: power and policy
H Byrd, S Matthewman & E Rasheed

Summertime overheating in UK homes: is there a safe haven?
P Drury, S Watson & K J Lomas

Survey study on energy use in UK homes during Covid-19
G M Huebner, N E Watson, K Direk, E McKenna, E Webborn, F Hollick, S Elam & T Oreszczyn

Ceiling-fan-integrated air-conditioning: thermal comfort evaluations
M Luo, H Zhang, Z Wang, E Arens, W Chen, F S Bauman & P Raftery

The future of IEQ in green building certifications
D Licina, P Wargocki, C Pyke & S Altomonte

Architectural form: flexibility, subdivision and diversity in Manhattan loft buildings
C S Kayatekin

The significance of urban systems on sustainability and public health [editorial]
J Taylor & P Howden-Chapman

Empowered by planning law: unintended outcomes in the Helsinki region
A Joutsiniemi, M Vaattovaara & J Airaksinen

Climate change projections for sustainable and healthy cities
C Goodess, S Berk, S B Ratna, O Brousse, M Davies, C Heaviside, G Moore & H Pineo

Retrofit at scale: accelerating capabilities for domestic building stocks [editorial]
F Wade & H J Visscher

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Latest Commentaries

Publishing Books: Some Advice and Warnings

Philip Steadman (University College London) has authored a dozen books over 50 years. Reflecting on his own experiences, he offers some advice to new authors planning to publish books about architecture and building.

Christopher Alexander and 'Notes on the Synthesis of Form'

Philip Steadman (University College London) revisits and critiques this influential book by Christopher Alexander (1936-2022). Its method relies in part on the mathematics of set and graph theory, together with a computer technique for analysing complex systems and dividing them into their component sub-systems.