Life Cycle Design

The built environment is not only the culprit of major energy consumption and CO2 emissions worldwide, its construction also uses up the majority of material resources of our planet. Yet we continue to evaluate building efficiency largely based on energy consumption, ignoring embodied energy, CO2 and other associated impacts. Doing so may be acceptable for conventional buildings that, over 3 to 8 years of operation, consume an amount of energy equivalent to that embodied in their initial construction. But with improving operational efficiency this equation changes – and embodied energy and CO2 are increasingly determining building life cycle performance. How is design affected?

Embodied energy and CO2 footprints relate to material selection and consumption patterns. The depletion of natural resources at current growth rates is ecologically and economically unsustainable – buildings and building products need to be re-thought such that they allow for closed material cycles through reuse, reclamation, and recycling, thus also reducing embodied energy and CO2. This is a design challenge much beyond merely replacing virgin with recycled materials. Can we re-strategize building design such that materials can re-enter the production cycle instead of being land filled? Will design for disassembly become the new norm for construction detailing? Today’s performance standards have generated complexly layered construction systems virtually impossible to separate –can they be re-thought to promote life cycle performance?

The display below presents student work from the course ‘Life Cycle Design’, currently in its second year. Students proposed new building products from and for the recycling stream, geared towards improving whole life performance. The diagram on the right investigates issues of material consumption, recycling and associated CO2 emissions in the United States. The exhibition aims at raising issues rather than providing concrete solutions, promoting further discussion

Research and Exhibition Design: Anthony Kane with Matan Mayer

Graphic Design: Aurgho Jyoti

We would like to thank Jane Hutton, Alix Reiskind, Johanna Kasubowski, and Dan Borelli for their support. Material samples courtesy of the GSD Materials Collection.