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What role do architects and urban planners have to play in creating low-carbon and climate-sustainable architecture?

19 of July '22

material taken from A&B magazine 06/22

When talking about low-carbon and sustainable architecture, we most often, unfortunately, focus on the buildings themselves. We forget that from the point of view of sustainability, because it is, after all, somewhat what the term "sustainable architecture" is about, the key to success is the spatial context - the place - the landscape in which this architecture is created.

The same, by the way, is true of low-carbon. Yes, more and more often architecture is already analyzed at the design stage in terms of reducing emissions during the use of the designed building, sometimes there is even an analysis of emissions in the context of the life cycle of the building or the carbon footprint of the materials and technologies used. However, this is still only a slice of reality, far from a complete grasp of the problem. First of all, any cubic investment negatively affects the environment by the very fact of taking up space that will be built on, sealed, reduce biodiversity and so on. Secondly, to be fully honest and truthful about emissions, we should also analyze the emissions that are increased due to the loss of carbon storage in the soil and ecosystems that we destroy directly and indirectly in the course of investing. In such a carbon footprint calculation, we should also include the additional carbon emissions that would have been sequestered by the removed biomass during the existence of our investment, which we removed. I am referring here not only to trees, but to all plant biomass removed during the "clearing" of the site for the investment. In my experience, few people, even of those who deal with the issue of emissions on a daily basis, actually analyze the carbon cycle and know how valuable ecosystems, especially wetlands, are in this process... Therefore, in order to talk about true low-carbon, climate-sustainable architecture, we need to address comprehensively adequate hydrological and emissions compensation for the damage caused, as well as the lost mass of carbon potentially sequestered by damaged and disturbed ecosystems. Nature compensation, for example, in the form of green infrastructure, retention greenery and green elements designed and implemented on the basis of phytosociology and nature and ecosystem-based design, is the right tool for this. The key is translated into absolute values - kilograms and cubic meters - of ecosystem services. And this is where we come to the role of landscape architects. We are the ones who can help with this! But for this to be possible, there is a need for informed investors and architects who realize the importance of this issue and the opportunities that come with hiring such an ecological engineering professional. What is needed here is indeed highly qualified and competent landscape architects, aware and taught to use greenery in such a way. Unfortunately, such specialists are in short supply. Why? Until now, there was no demand, so few of us devoted ourselves to self-education in this direction. I myself, only thanks to self-education and verification of such acquired knowledge with implementation, in cooperation with an informed investor, today I know how to design, taking into account greenery as an element of the infrastructure of cities and settlements. Unfortunately, this is not taught at universities. Mostly theoreticians work at them, and here you need skills verified by practice.

There is also another reason for the shortage of highly specialized landscape architects - the lack of industry licenses. This results in a lack of faith on the part of the entire construction industry, including officials, that a landscape architect is so educated in his field that no one else can replace him. I'm not writing here about construction licenses, because that's not what's needed here. However, it is difficult to remain indifferent to the absurdity in which a licensed architect is more necessary to design a park than a landscape architect, because parks in our country are "built". That's why we need strictly industry-specific authorizations, confirming our competence in terms of ecological engineering precisely, green infrastructure design, green retention, ecosystem service calculations and so on. Such authorizations would also distinguish between garden designers and specialists in urban, public, park greenery. Such entitlements would also mobilize a more engineering-oriented approach at universities and even modify curricula. I personally, as a designer, and as a member of the Landscape Architecture Association, count on the support of architects in lobbying for entitlements so tailored. It is in the interest of all of us, because only then will we be able to create truly zero-carbon cities together!

Joanna Rayss

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