Building within planetary boundaries: moving construction to stewardship

Matti Kuittinen

The consumption of materials and energy for construction is a serious challenge to contain global warming below 2°C. Growing population, increasing per capita floor areas, more frequent extreme weather events and related repair needs, and rising sea levels are all accelerating the demand for construction and driving resource use. Rapid and drastic reductions in global carbon emissions and robust approaches to climate-related events are required urgently to remain within the planetary boundaries. Therefore, a new hierarchy for solving spatial needs is required: the Global North should avoid making new buildings, where and whenever possible. Instead, using existing spaces, renovating, adapting or extending the existing buildings would be much preferred. Such a hierarchy must be applied with context sensitivity. Especially the social needs of developing countries or communities recovering from humanitarian disasters should be adequately met, including the option of new construction. However, for most developed regions where populations are stable, new construction should require considerable justification. New design, business models and legislation are needed to successfully implement this approach. Environmental norms and architectural policies can offer a complementary set of approaches for reducing unsustainable consumption of resources in construction. Because of the historical responsibility as well as the current climate leadership, a fair transition should start from Europe.

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