Mindful Architecture

Architecture has given us the opportunity to change the physical world around us by altering existing structures and constructing new ones. It has also given us the ability to embody human emotions, beliefs, history, and cultures in the infrastructure and monuments that comprise our cities and communities. Nonetheless, as a mass-produced human activity reliant on limited resources, it has caused irreversible environmental damage.

To counter such effects, mindful architecture has emerged as a critical criterion for the environmental agenda. After all, how can society be environmentally friendly if the structures upon which it is built do not adhere to the same standards? Fortunately, with the advancement of technology and environmental innovation, architecture, like many other forms of art, has discovered methods to reduce its carbon footprint. It has built an ecological framework that revolves around three primary focuses: (1) sustainable design; (2) refitting of existing infrastructure; and (3) advocating and lobbying.

Mindful architecture considers sustainable design at the core of its vision. It aims to change the way infrastructure is built and the requirements buildings must meet to be safe and energy-efficient, both for us and for the environment. Consequently, sustainable design has led to the rise of environmental standards that seek to normalize ecological consciousness in architectural design. Consider the Passivhaus principle, an international energy performance standard through which buildings decrease heat consumption by 75%.

The emergence of sustainable design is also pushing architects to think outside the box in the name of the environment. Indeed, as the environmental conversation garners popularity, they have had to consider how to differentiate themselves in an industry that is slowly but surely betting on sustainability. For example, some have turned to reversible design, building infrastructure that can be easily deconstructed, while others have turned to biomimetic architecture, following the construction principles found in natural environments. Many architects have also put the use of natural energy at the very core of their design thinking, relying on wind turbines and solar systems to power the infrastructure they build.

However, not all efforts have focused on reforming our future architectural behaviors and norms; in fact, many architects are seeking methods to be sustainable by concentrating on existing infrastructures that have been neglected. Rather than building new sustainable spaces, these individuals have directed their resources toward retrofitting existing buildings. By doing so, they have popularized the concept of circular architecture, which describes a cycle in which architectural components are adaptable and can be reused.

The architectural industry's retrofitting drive has also witnessed the emergence of collaborations between architects and low-income housing projects. Creative minds have begun to investigate how abandoned housing sites may be utilized to combat growing housing costs, the gentrification of districts, and homelessness. Even better, they are combating the effects of inequity with a creative twist. Just last year, for example, architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal took home the Pritzker Prize for designing affordable housing out of existing structures since the 1990s.

Yet, progress made by the architecture sector has not been merely structural; prominent architects have also turned to advocating and lobbying in favor of sustainable practices in the industry. Many are working with governments to propose a greener future for design and construction, like the American Institute of Architects, which recently lobbied the US Congress to secure more than $300 billion USD for resilient design. By doing so, the industry is becoming a major voice in institutional climate conversations.

Others have focused on establishing climate action groups to collectivize the environmental efforts in the industry. Architects Declare, for instance, is a network of Stirling Prize-winning architects that focuses on hosting events on architectural sustainability and innovative nature-based design thinking. Similarly, architects from around the world are seeking to transform future habits by introducing environmental thinking to universities and early education as a means of making sustainability and architecture compatible. Moreover, they are also placing sustainability at the forefront of their relationships with their suppliers, engineers, and clients. Consequently, they continue to create elaborate webs of environmentally conscious individuals that sell and purchase in a sustainable manner.

Architecture, like every other industry or man-made activity, has had to adapt to the consequences of climate change. To do so, it has altered the future of infrastructure via the emergence of sustainable design, retrofitting, and lobbying. These three initiatives have allowed architects to embrace the sustainability agenda without the need to sacrifice their creative integrity. They have also defined innovation, risk-taking, and community development as key industry drivers. And by doing so, more and more mindful architects are using their expertise to construct structures that follow environmental standards, enhancing the longevity, functionality, and long-term value of the infrastructure we stand in.


Illustration by Tereza Zivotska


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