Commentaries

Can Personal Carbon Allowances Help Cities Reach Their Climate Targets?

Could a focus on city dwellers to reduce individual emissions – personal carbon allowances – have value in meeting city Net Zero targets?

Many cities throughout the world have set carbon and / or energy targets including renewable energy production and emissions reduction goals. Despite the commitment to take action, cities do not directly control the majority of the uses of energy or consumption-related sources of carbon emissions within their boundaries. Could a focus on household energy use, personal travel and consumption of material goods help to achieve this transition at city level? Tina Fawcett (University of Oxford), Kerry Constabile (University of Oxford) and Yael Parag (Reichman University) consider whether and how cities could harness personal carbon allowances in a practical manner.

Lessons from the Swiss Impulse Programme

What works: this Swiss programme shows how a long-term, consistent approach by government and other stakeholders created a successful transition for construction SMEs. It could be adapted for a low-carbon transition.

The former Swiss 'Impulse programme' was a successful response to the 1970s energy crisis. It provides important lessons for today’s climate emergency about what governments, industry and academia can do to create a successful transition within the construction industry. Niklaus Kohler and Kurt Meier (both former members of the Construction and Energy Impulse programmes) reflect on key lessons for today about its implementation and how to sustain change over the short and long term.

New European Bauhaus Festival: Living within Planetary Boundaries

Presentations, performances, debates and exhibitions provide a positive message about embracing change in the built environment.

The first annual festival of the New European Bauhaus – a cultural initiative of Ursula von der Leyen (President of the European Commission) – took place in Brussels 9 – 12 June 2022. This ambitious programme and its recent festival recognises the built environment's centrality to creating climate neutrality, quality of life and social equity. Matti Kuittinen (Aalto University, coordinator of the Nordic Bauhaus programme) reflects on the festival, summarises its takeaways and applauds the mainstreaming of the New European Bauhaus.

How R&D is Reducing the Use of Concrete

Concrete has high environmental impacts. Can the construction industry reduce the volume of concrete that is used?

After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on earth. Paul Shepherd (University of Bath) explains how deep reductions in the amount of concrete used in buildings can be achieved through advanced structural design and fabrication.

Transition to Personal Comfort Systems

How can this low-energy approach to personal thermal comfort be implemented?

Mechanical engineer David Heinzerling, PE (principal at Taylor Engineers and chair of ASHRAE Standing Standard Project Committee 55 – SSPC-55, the committee overseeing the ASHRAE Standard 55: Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy) looks at the barriers and opportunities for mainstreaming Personal Comfort Systems.

Personal Comfort Systems: Using Internet of Things for Optimization

The IOT can coordinate PCS & HVAC systems to improve energy efficiency.

Joyce Kim (University of Waterloo) explains key findings and lessons arising from a Personal Comfort Systems field study using the Internet of Things. Key questions addressing the next steps for widespread adoption are posed.

Personal Comfort Systems: Lessons from the creation of the ‘Klimastuhl’

Part of a a new series on Personal Comfort Systems: How barriers to this promising approach can be overcome.

Sabine Hoffmann (Technical University of Kaiserslautern) explains how an office chair with heating and cooling was developed and commercialised.

Mainstreaming Personal Comfort Systems (PCS)

First in a new series examining how barriers to this promising approach can be overcome.

Ed Arens and Hui Zhang (Center for the Built Environment, University of California, Berkeley) introduce a series of commentaries that explore the development and adoption of personal comfort systems: decentralized building thermal control, in which occupants control their local environments with personal devices while the amount of central space conditioning (HVAC) is scaled back. This has been shown to improve thermal satisfaction and reduce energy demand. What are the barriers to its implementation?

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.

Latest Peer-Reviewed Journal Content

Journal Content

Energy housekeeping: intersections of gender, domestic labour and technologies
R Martin

Speculation beyond technology: building scenarios through storytelling
R M Dowsett, M S Green & C F Harty

Professional judgement: an institutional logic approach to contractor tender pricing
D Jefferies & L Schweber

Emerging technologies’ impacts on ‘man caves’ and their energy demand
Y Strengers, K Dahlgren & L Nicholls

The gender of smart charging
S Pink

Fire performance and regulatory considerations with modern methods of construction
B J Meacham

Who cares? How care practices uphold the decentralised energy order
K Lucas-Healey, H Ransan- Cooper, H Temby & A W Russell

Alternatives to air-conditioning: policies, design, technologies, behaviours [editorial]
B Ford, D Mumovic & R Rawal

Benchmarking energy performance: indicators and models for Dutch housing associations
H S van der Bent, H J Visscher, A Meijer & N Mouter

Emissions from a net-zero building in India: life cycle assessment
M Jain & R Rawal

Lack of adaptability in Brazilian social housing: impacts on residents
S B Villa, P B Vasconcellos, K C R de Bortoli & L B de Araujo

Participation in domestic energy retrofit programmes: key spatio- temporal drivers
E Mohareb, A Gillich & D Bristow

Embodied carbon of concrete in buildings, Part 2: are the messages accurate?
A Moncaster, T Malmqvist, T Forman, F Pomponi & J Anderson

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

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Latest Commentaries

Can Personal Carbon Allowances Help Cities Reach Their Climate Targets?

Many cities throughout the world have set carbon and / or energy targets including renewable energy production and emissions reduction goals. Despite the commitment to take action, cities do not directly control the majority of the uses of energy or consumption-related sources of carbon emissions within their boundaries. Could a focus on household energy use, personal travel and consumption of material goods help to achieve this transition at city level? Tina Fawcett (University of Oxford), Kerry Constabile (University of Oxford) and Yael Parag (Reichman University) consider whether and how cities could harness personal carbon allowances in a practical manner.

Lessons from the Swiss Impulse Programme

The former Swiss 'Impulse programme' was a successful response to the 1970s energy crisis. It provides important lessons for today’s climate emergency about what governments, industry and academia can do to create a successful transition within the construction industry. Niklaus Kohler and Kurt Meier (both former members of the Construction and Energy Impulse programmes) reflect on key lessons for today about its implementation and how to sustain change over the short and long term.