EMBODIED CARBON- Material Cycles, Circularity, and Advances in Reverse Engineering

At a time when urgent action is needed to avert the climate crisis, it is very difficult to take an idealistic approach when considering key materials in building construction. Designers can play an important role in the race to de-carbonize the built environment and this course will touch on how we got to where we are and how we can move forward in practice with the lessons that we have learned. Through a series of conversations and presentations, including from external experts, we will engage in inversing the design process by utilizing newly available tools. We will demystify regulations, terminology, and popular language, and examine how the predominant materials for construction, which are unlikely to go away soon, can be improved and implemented in design and construction to promote a low carbon economy.

Adaptive re-use, retrofit, recycle, regenerative design, conservation, resilient development: these are just some of the common and generic terms that need to be more closely understood in the context of other processes that are now emerging in practice. To do so, we need to trace previous understandings of methods and construction. The city as an object has a rich history of being constructed and reconstructed. We need to grasp the progress that has been made in construction throughout history and retreat from relying on theoretical works alone where formal concerns dominate.

The course will offer opportunities to discuss evolving technologies, periodic advances in codes of practice, shifts in material supplies, and “hacking” policies and regulations where possible. At the same time, we will consider an amalgam of building types in continuous transformation as the city builds upon itself and new cities rapidly emerge in the Global South.

Many ancient methods are going through an accelerated revival where capacity, building codes, and technical specifications, such as fire and acoustics, empower architects to take back control as Design Team Leader. But we must also resist demonizing the more recent materials without looking at how to “clean” them. Consequences to embodied carbon, social interaction, maintenance, durability, textural qualities, tactility, heat absorption parameters, insulation, and indoor air quality come into play. The Architect is trained and skilled sufficiently to predict and control these variables. The course will cover supply chains, procurement, and crafts, and touch on specific cases that work towards “reversing” the steps taken over the last 100-1,000 years.

The seminar will be held both remotely and in person with group discussions at the end of each class. You are expected to attend all class meetings. See the course syllabus for details regarding the schedule.