World Architecture Week and climate change

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ARCHITECT FELINO A. PALAFOX, JR.

“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”
–Winston Churchill

THIS quotation is a paradox expressing that the culture and values we represent are reflected in our buildings, yet as time passes, the users of the building adapt the lifestyle depending on the design of the building. Hence, you see the importance of good building design. For every line you draw, think of the users; if you do a good job, think of the beneficiaries; if you do a bad job, think of the sufferers.

In celebration of World Architecture Week, as architects, we have a role in raising awareness and providing solutions in mitigating climate change, since we design these buildings where people, live, learn, shop and dine, do recreational activities, and more. Studies have shown that worldwide, 30 to 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, 30 to 40 percent of solid waste generation, and 25 to 40 percent of total energy use, are from buildings. These figures show the significance of designing sustainable and green buildings. There have been initiatives to encourage architects and planners to design for sustainability, among which is the 2030 Challenge. The 2030 Challenge aims to have all buildings carbon neutral by 2030.

Designing for resilience
In a disaster-prone country such as the Philippines, resilient and adaptive architecture should be second nature to us, but years of following a “do-nothing” scenario causes millions of pesos of damage cost year after year. Not mentioning the costs, but the worst sufferers are the poor who have to bear the consequences disaster after disaster. Whereas other countries have progressed with their modular pre-fab housing, the Philippines has lagged behind this technology that could actually offer safer and more affordable housing for the marginalized.


Providing in-city housing would encourage these urban poor to use the housing given to them; they do not have to return to their informal settlements, which are usually in hazardous areas or vulnerable to disasters. Planning and designing for resilience will not only reduce the damage cost, but could save lives.

Apart from the planning of cities and communities, architecture of individual structures should be built to be disaster-resilient as well. Japan has created and strictly implemented their policies on earthquake-resilient buildings, providing structural standards to be followed. The Philippines has its own as well; however, this is usually compromised by corrupt practices. A structure built without integrity can kill people. A JICA study showed that if a 7.2-magnitude earthquake were to hit Metro Manila, seven bridges would collapse, including the Guadalupe Bridge; there would be 33,500 fatalities, and 113,600 people injured; 2 percent of the high-rise buildings and 170,000 residential houses will be damaged.

Using substandard materials instead of the specified material in order to cut costs or pocket the savings is one example of corrupt practices. When a typhoon or an earthquake occurs, the users will be the one to suffer the damage and loss;so you can see, corruption kills.

Planning for the future
What is certain is that climate change causes natural disasters to worsen, with Typhoon Yolanda as an example of the “new normal”. As architects, we should foresee these kinds of disasters and construct with an allowance. We worked with Tzu Chi Foundation to design schools for Iran and Nepal that can withstand an earthquake with a magnitude of 10 – an earthquake that never happened. The schools and hospital are designed to last for a thousand years. We advised that an electrical audit be done every 25years, and a structural audit done every 70 years, because we found out that Nepal’s concrete can only last up to 70 years.

Same goes with flooding. A good practice is to check the hundred-year flood map, to get an idea about the historical flooding. Horizontal setbacks and vertical easements should be taken into consideration. There should be no livable space below the maximum flood line. And for settlements beside the oceans, high tides, storm surges, and tsunamis should be taken into account of. For these areas, there should be a minimum setback of 30 meters.

Apart from architects, planners, and government implementing these disaster-adaptive policies, developers and individuals should respect and follow these regulations as well, for these are implemented for their own safety.

Designing for sustainability
Sustainability plays a key role in slowing down the drastic effects of climate change. Sustainable and green buildings allow minimum energy consumption and waste production. As mentioned in my previous articles on sustainability, there are several factors which can contribute to a green building.

The embodied energy refers to the total amount of energy consumed with the site development, building construction, operations and maintenance. The aim of sustainable development is to keep the embodied energy at a minimum, and this can be done either by reusing a structure or a site, using local materials and furniture, and LED lights, among others. Newer technologies have been paving the way for innovative building materials, lighting, ventilation, and other mechanisms, which have increased efficiency but low energy consumption. This is why LEED and other green building ratings have been pushing forward for these kinds of development. Those who wish to have a higher rating have to utilize these innovations into their building, which actually benefits the owners as well. In terms of marketing aspects, having a LEED-certified or a BERDE-certified structure. This would mean that the building is physically safe for its users and would even enhance their lifestyle. Apart from this, those who are environmentally conscious can be guaranteed that the building they will be using has a minimal impact on the environment.

In line with recent efforts on reducing the climate change effect, we as architects should shape our buildings responsibly and in accordance with nature now, and in time, these buildings will shape the future generations to respect nature and live sustainably, before it is all too late.

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