Metropolis’s Nov/Dec 2021 issue gathers the tools to tackle the impacts of the materials and processes that go into architecture and design.
Architecture and design practice today has an occupant problem. For years, we have considered it a virtue to intently focus our energy on the health, needs, and desires of the people who occupy our buildings and interiors. But this approach has two drawbacks: One, who the “occupants” are is usually defined by clients who tend to be more concerned with customers than employees or else prioritize needs in descending order of corporate hierarchy. Two, by zeroing in on occupants, we forget that every building or interior touches innumerable lives along its supply chain, from miners who pull raw materials out of the bowels of the earth to the communities who live near the landfills where our building materials eventually end up.
As Metropolis digital editor Ethan Tucker urges in his cover story, “A New Concept for Good Architecture: Embodied Justice,” we must dig deeper if we truly want to design and build equitably.
Tucker proposes that just as each product or material used in a building represents a certain amount of embodied carbon emissions, it also has a particular level of embodied justice. He asks: “Can we tally up the impact—positive and negative—on the human beings and communities their creation has touched?”
As our industry starts to measure and reckon with that profound impact, information is already coming to light that some conventional materials and systems are harmful to people and the planet. Fortunately, there are efforts underway to find alternatives that sequester carbon, support human health and dignity of life, and minimize our negative impact on the earth’s ecosystems.
At the Parsons Healthy Materials Lab (“The Healthy Materials Lab is Redefining Sustainable Design”), for example, Alison Mears, Jonsara Ruth, and their team are researching better options for architects and designers, creating guides on materials to encourage shifts in the marketplace, and training designers on healthy specification. In “In Three Buildings Around the World, Old Methods Find New Purpose” we showcase developments in mass timber, hempcrete, and natural ventilation that will help scale up the building industry’s efforts to decarbonize. As this year draws to a close, even as we acknowledge the enormous task ahead in design for climate, health, and equity, there is much to be optimistic about.