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  • Writer's pictureGM Shay

Are Architects Responsible for Climate Change?

Fact: Buildings create about 40% of all carbon emissions worldwide, while transportation creates 23%.

The making and operating of buildings contribute more carbon to our atmosphere than any other sector, and the buildings we have now will probably remain for at least 50 more years. New buildings being built are going to last even longer, and total world-wide building floor area is expected to double over the next 40 years. Nothing humans do has more lasting impact. Architects are therefore more responsible for the problem—and the solution—than any other subset of humanity. It is time for us to own it and get to work.

Recently, while having this conversation with one of my architectural colleagues, she told me she had seen a documentary about institutional racism with photos of great buildings that had separate public restrooms for “coloreds.” She said she was seized by the thought that these had been designed by architects, and that the vestige of racism remained embodied in them for many generations afterwards. Her point was that architects have an ethical responsibility for considering the full implications of what they design, even if their clients want it. With carbon emissions already altering world climate now, and soon irreversibly, we have to take full responsibility for our actions, even if the consumers of our designs do not.

At GMShay Architects, we are committed to showing our clients and users how buildings can be both wonderful places and create greatly reduced amounts of carbon emissions, economically. By that we mean by showing how better design can reduce carbon emissions and save money and resources in ways that increase the return on investment. We cannot force our clients to “go green,” but through better design and energy analysis we can show them how to make money the “old fashioned way”—by saving it.

We are also committed to helping the City of Savannah meet its ambitious “100% Savannah” initiative to make the entire City of Savannah powered by renewable energy by 2035, and carbon neutral (net carbon emissions = 0) by 2050. it is possible, but only if we help make our existing buildings, all of them, be much more energy-efficient. Our new buildings must be both energy-efficient and self-sufficient. This is hard work for architects, but the economic benefits are well worth it. Consider recent events in Texas. People died from freezing and carbon monoxide poisoning when the power grid failed for millions of buildings. Many of those buildings now have frozen and burst water pipes that will take months to restore, keeping millions of people from productive work. The black mold contamination from flooding in those buildings will bloom and make many of them dangerous to inhabit for years. Better building insulation, solar water heating and distributed solar power with batteries, would have reduced the demand on the power grid, and allowed those Texans to recover far more quickly. The savings would have been many times over more than their costs.

The time for debate is over. Buildings must become much more energy-efficient and consume far less carbon, or Savannah will be in grave danger. As architects we accept this challenge. Let’s get started!

For more information about the City’s 100% Savannah initiative visit:


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