Experts call for ban on glass skyscrapers to save energy in climate crisis

(The Guardian, 28 Jul 2019) Air conditioning is used to avoid greenhouse effect but cooling buildings adds to carbon emissions.

Leading architects and engineers are calling for all-glass skyscrapers to be banned because they are too difficult and expensive to cool.

“If you’re building a greenhouse in a climate emergency, it’s a pretty odd thing to do to say the least,” said Simon Sturgis, an adviser to the government and the Greater London Authority, as well as chairman of the Royal Institute of British Architects sustainability group. “If you’re using standard glass facades you need a lot of energy to cool them down, and using a lot of energy equates to a lot of carbon emissions.”

Glass-fronted offices, from high- profile buildings like the Shard to shopping centres and industrial parks, have become popular with architects and their clients because they create an arresting view in a city skyline, let in lots of natural light and provide great views for those inside. But the sunlight also brings heat, and in sealed buildings there is nowhere for it to escape to naturally – something which, as Britain sweltered in a record-breaking heatwave last week, will have become apparent to many working inside them.

To avoid this greenhouse effect, air conditioning has been the standard solution. But that is problematic in itself. The International Energy Agency estimates that about 40% of global carbon dioxide emissions come from constructing, heating, cooling and demolishing buildings. Air conditioning is a growing proportion of this: energy used on cooling has doubled since 2000 and accounts for about 14% of all energy use now.

In April the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, said he would ban all-glass buildings and force developers to retrofit existing buildings to make them more energy-efficient, although the “ban” was later clarified to mean excessive use of glass and steel.

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The Guardian, 28 Jul 2019: Experts call for ban on glass skyscrapers to save energy in climate crisis