At the first-ever UN “Buildings Day”, held at the Paris climate talks in December, there was unprecedented scrutiny of the carbon dioxide emissions associated with property and construction, and the sector’s role in averting catastrophic climate change. By 2050, emissions from the built environment must be reduced by an estimated 84 gigatonnes – the equivalent of taking 22,000 coal-fired power stations offline – if global warming is to be limited to less than 2°C.
That will take a radical rethink of the way we build and refurbish, but also of how properties are funded, valued, procured and managed: the World Green Building Council is calling for nothing short of a “global market transformation”. In this cover feature for Modus, the magazine of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, I investigated what that’s going to look like.
This is the property sector’s “tobacco moment”, one expert told me – the equivalent of the government reports that made an incontrovertible link between smoking and ill-health in the early 1960s: “The fundamental difference between the Kyoto Protocol [in 1997] and the Paris Agreement is that today no one can say they didn’t know there was risk.”
The summer issue of Concrete Quarterly is packed with curiosities: an insurers’ office with a Soviet missile as its centrepiece; an Oxford faculty building compared to a marshmallow, a spaceship, a stack of CDs and a pile of washing up; a ruined Spanish castle controversially refurbished as a block of concrete; and a French music school deliberately splattered with paint. We also ran an exclusive interview with AHMM’s Paul Monaghan about how the practice managed to win the 2015 Stirling Prize with a school largely built in a factory, and how he persuaded Barking council’s housing department to love concrete again…
CQ is a Wordmule production for the Concrete Centre, in print, PDF and, all-new for summer 2016, web.
My company Wordmule has just produced a second issue of This is Concrete, the bespoke 24-page magazine we created for The Concrete Centre last year to tie in with their activities at the Ecobuild exhibition. Their themes were pretty diverse this year, from how to design buildings to last in a changing climate and create high-performance housing for people of all ages, to the thorny issue of accurately calculating the embodied carbon of building products. So we pulled it all together under a “sustainability for life” theme, with a special cover illustration by our very talented designer Nick Watts. Details of The Concrete Centre’s activities at Ecobuild were contained in a pull-out section, to extend the magazine’s shelf life beyond the event itself. Which fits in quite neatly with the theme, come to think of it.
When can you make a sensitive addition to a much-loved streetscape, and a striking brutalist statement at the same time? Why, when you’re expanding one of the UK’s legendary modernist campuses of course. That was the dream commission that Patel Taylor had at the University of Essex, profiled in the latest issue of Concrete Quarterly, which my company Wordmule produces for The Concrete Centre. Also featured: a Tokyo music school that has been named the best new education building in the world, a completely white concrete atrium connecting two neoclassical mansions at an art museum in Avignon, and Antarctic research station architect Hugh Broughton tells us about his favourite buildings.
Even if – a very big if – global warming is held to the 1.5°C limit set by nearly 200 world leaders at the UN climate talks in Paris, this will represent a radical change in the global climate. The other big news from the Paris conference was an unprecedented emphasis on adapting to the change that is already happening, and which will continue for centuries to come, no matter what. Humankind faces an uncertain future in which extreme weather events are more frequent and more intense, and there is an escalating threat from storms, hail, flooding, droughts, tropical cyclones and landslides.
The Paris talks stopped short of setting targets or funding mechanisms, but the World Bank estimates that to adapt to a 2°C rise we would have to spend US$70-100bn each year between 2010 and 2050. The cost of not doing anything is pretty high too: over the last decade, annual damages to global real estate and infrastructure from severe weather events have tripled to US$150bn, reaching 8% of GDP in the worst hit regions, not including indirect losses to sectors such as tourism.
In this article for the RICS magazine, Modus, I investigated the far-reaching implications for property, from protecting individual homeowners against heatwaves and flooding, to future-proofing real-estate funds worth billions of dollars.
And for much, much more detail on climate change adaptation, there’s this book I co-wrote for RIBA Publishing.
In October, my regular client WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff sponsored a host room at the annual conference of the Council for Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats in New York. I went along, listened in on two days of presentations and then turned it into a 72-page magazine, to be distributed to the company’s clients and partners worldwide. The overall theme of Skylines is the renaissance of tall buildings. There’s an unprecedented high-rise boom, but the new generation of towers will be very different from those that preceded them – not only in their giant scale but in the kind of spaces they offer, both in the sky and on the ground. Skylines explores what this looks like, from the perspective of designers, developers and city planners around the world.
Concrete Quarterly’s winter edition takes a fascinating look at the world through the eyes of a sculptor – legendary concrete mural artist William Mitchell, now in his 90s, who compares the forms of the UK’s motorway network to sand dunes in the Arabian Desert (p19). Sculptural forms abound elsewhere too – once you start thinking that way, it’s hard to stop. There’s an art gallery in LA where works by Jeff Koons sit within a moulded building that appears to float, a social justice centre-cum-shelving unit in south London, and a kitchen extension made almost entirely of concrete that could have been carved from a single block. I’ve edited CQ for the Concrete Centre since 2010, but you can read the whole archive going back to 1947 here.