Michelle Addington: Sustainability reset

Are architects proceeding from the wrong premise and solving the wrong problems in their approach to climate change?

October 29, 2019
7:00 p.m.

The climate emergency demands that the ways we build, and think about building, change radically. But how? We are in a rapidly evolving, paradoxical context of worsening scientific indicators, sweeping and contradictory policy proposals from different points on the political spectrum, and, simultaneously, increasing climate change-instigated action at the scale of cities and regions.

What, then, should designers do, and how can they do it? How do the practice, culture, and pedagogy of architecture and landscape architecture need to shift?

In this series of lectures and discussions, leading practitioners and educators describe the urgent need for change and sketch the outlines of new ways of thinking and acting as architects and landscape architects. On each evening, respondents will draw out the implications of the ideas presented and offer suggestions for implementing them at a speed and scale commensurate with the climate emergency.

Challenging the premise behind architecture’s approach to climate change

As we accelerate ever faster to climate change’s warming limit of 2° C, after having already passed the 400 ppm CO2 threshold a few years ago, we have not witnessed a meaningful reduction in the energy use of the building sector. Unquestionably, there have been enormous strides in analysis and simulation, in the development of new technologies and materials, and in the integration of multiple disciplines to bring unprecedented resources and knowledge to the design of the built environment—but we have not witnessed a meaningful reduction in the energy use of the building sector. If our methods, materials, and tools have improved, have we perhaps been solving the wrong problems?

Michelle Addington is dean of The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, where she holds the Henry M. Rockwell Chair in Architecture. Formerly, she served as Hines Chair in Sustainable Architectural Design at Yale University and was jointly appointed as a professor at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Originally educated as a mechanical/nuclear engineer, Addington worked for several years as an engineer at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center and for E.I. DuPont de Nemours before she studied architecture. Her teaching, research, and professional work span across these disciplines, with the overarching objective of determining strategic intersections between the optimal domains of physical phenomena with the practical domains of spatial, geopolitical, economic, and cultural systems.


Ed Crooks on incentivizing energy alternatives

Financial Times Journalist Ed Crooks uses hard data to stress the realities of our dependence on oil. The world consumes 90 million barrels of oil each day while only 13% of our energy comes from renewable sources.