Designers Have a Unique Capacity to Shape both the Built and the Natural Environment.
By understanding the lifecycle of the products and systems we employ in the design of buildings and their infrastructure, we can more judiciously manage our raw material consumption, our energy demands, and the impact of all of it on the flow of carbon through the environment.
Life Cycle Assessment for Building Designers
Goal of the Seminar
This course introduces students to the essential science-based methods that are used for measuring how the goals of circular economy are met, with a specific focus on the wide-ranging impacts of the construction industry and its attendant demand in regional and global supply chains, energy systems, and land use.
Typically utilized by material scientists and industrial ecologists rather than by building designers, these methods include material flow analysis (MFA), life cycle assessment (LCA) and carbon footprinting, life cycle energy assessment (LCEA), life cycle costing (LCC) and multi-objective building optimization (MOBO).
Teaching covers both the theoretical, scientific principles underlying circular analysis methodologies and practical exercises for leveraging these scientific methods within the construction sector.
For this study module, we suggest using an online lecture series that consists of nine short video lectures in English. These lectures cover the different aspects of building´s life cycle assessment from the viewpoint of calculating building´s carbon footprint.
The lectures are intended for “flipped classroom” learning. In this approach, the students watch the lectures between the classes and the time together with the teachers and tutors is reserved for implementing the lectures into the assessment exercise.
The lectures are available through www.decarbonizedesign.com free of charge for educational purposes.
An assessment tool can be any online or stand-alone software that is designed for building-level life cycle assessment (e.g. One Click LCA or Tally). We do not recommend using a generic LCA tool for the course, because building the unit processes can be too time-consuming.
Alternatively, the assessment can be carried out by simply using spreadsheet. This requires, however, that the spreadsheet has been prepared in advance for the students and tested.
In addition to the online lectures, students will need to have a sample building for which the calculation is done. The building can be small or large, but we recommend that it would be heated. This gives understanding about the share of “operational” and “embodied” impacts.
An essential requirement for the studied buildings is that its bill of quantities is available. It is possible to estimate the materials from drawings as well, but this can take much time and reduce the efficiency of the study module.
Furthermore, if energy simulations, certificates or documentation of the energy consumption are available, this will make the assessment easier.
This is an exemplary progress of the course that should be modified to suit the curriculum.
Introduction to the course
Introducing the aims of the course
Presenting the flipped classroom approach
Presenting the outline of the online lectures
Presenting the selected assessment tool(s)
Giving instructions for selection of the case study buildings (unless the teacher has not selected the buildings for the students)
Case study buildings, system boundaries and assessment tools
Students should have watched the online lectures
Students present the case study buildings briefly and explain scope & goal for their assessment, as well as which system boundaries they have selected
Students should have access to the assessment tool
Teacher can ask questions related to the online lectures
Teacher should make sure that all students have a building that is suitable for the assessment
An introduction to the use of the assessment tool(s) can be given
Students should have listed the building materials of their case study building
Teacher and tutors should help the students to recognise which parts of the assessed building are most relevant for the assessment
Teacher and tutors should help the students in fine-tuning the system boundaries for their studies so that the workload of the assessment matches with the credits of the course
Life cycle scenarios
Students should have completed the material inventory
Students should present their scenarios for different life cycle stages: transportation distances, construction methods, replacement intervals of materials, energy consumption, demolition method, reuse and recycling percentages, etc.
Teacher and tutors should ensure that the scenarios are relevant and that do not lead into too long or complicated assessment process.
Sensitivities and comparisons
Students should have identified a part of their building, or its lifecycle, that causes most of the impacts.
Students should have made a comparison of at least one alternative solution for the identified part of the building or its life cycle, for mitigating the impacts.
Teacher and tutors should give feedback of how the comparisons could be communicated to the intended audience and discuss with the students what sort of trade-offs the alternative solutions might bring.
Presenting the results
Students should have drafted graphical and written presentation of the results of the assessment.
Teachers and tutors should give feedback about the clarity, readability and visualisation of the results and reflect the proposed report to the original scope & goal of the assessment.
Students should present the results of their assessments to the course
Teachers and tutors should try to engage the rest of the course into a discussion about the findings of each assessment exercise.
Life Cycle Design Studio
Goals of the Design Studio
This design course applies the concepts of a circular economy to iterative design practice. The course differs from existing studio courses by establishing a strong focus on a life cycle approach to building design and construction, including end-of-life scenarios, sustainable manufacturing and assembly techniques, and extended material and energy stewardship.
The course consists of lectures and tutored individual design project development, simulating building programs that would vary by location and year and based on realistic and topical building needs. The lectures cover the legislative, regulatory, and industrial policy aspects of the selected design task and give understanding about the possibilities for the designer to promote circular construction practices.
The design studio offers a unique opportunity for students to implement circular design methodologies and best practices within the framework of a realistic building project.
The Life Cycle Design Studio explores advanced approaches to the design of sustainable buildings in the urban housing sector by posing the simple but provocative question: how will we live, design, and build for a future constrained by diminishing resources and increasing anthropogenic environmental disturbance? Guided by circular economic principles and armed with tools that include the analysis and visualization of the building lifecycle, its material and energy flows, and its potential ecological impacts, students will conduct research and develop designs for new modes and configurations of urban dwelling that incorporate materials and energy supply systems drawn from renewable sources and industrial and consumer waste streams.
By considering both upstream ecological benefits and downstream improvements in public health, students will engage some of the most deeply entrenched problems of contemporary global society: housing and social equity for a rapidly expanding and urbanizing global population, the over-consumption of planetary resources, and the role of the built environment n in driving climate change.
Ultimately, the studio will examine—through its own collective design work and an accompanying research program—the ways in which circular economic principles can promote a new design culture, one that leverages abundant and underutilized environmental resources as it seeks to address pressing global environmental crises.
Circular Economy Background
Originally developed by environmental economists in the late 1980s, the concept of a “circular economy” encompasses a societal shift away from linear, extractive production-consumption models and towards a restorative, regenerative economic framework. Effectively, this reconceptualization of traditional economic models marks a transition from our contemporary production economy to an emergent performance economy, in which entire systems are designed for sustainable, renewable, and regenerative operation.
In 2015, the European Union adopted the “EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy,” an ambitious legislative policy document designed to stimulate Europe’s transition to a circular economy. Specifically, the policy seeks to “close the loop” in each step of the industrial supply chain: eliminating wasted energy and materials during extraction and production, encouraging product repair and material recycling, and improving waste management practices to feed secondary materials back into the economy as recycled products or energy. Not only does the EU action plan represent a general trend towards promoting environmentally healthy practices, but it seeks to capitalize on what McKinsey & Company has identified as a €1.8 trillion market opportunity by 2030.
Recognizing the financial potential of pivoting towards a more sustainable economy, Finland recently published the world’s first national circular economy transition plan, with a stated goal to become a global leader in the circular economy by 2025. Developed by the Finnish Innovation Fund (SITRA), the Finland transition model identifies a number of “loops” in which specific innovations can drive economic transformation. Specifically, the “Forest-based Loop” highlights the capacity for biogenic building materials to simultaneously reduce the embodied carbon emissions of the built environment while promoting healthy forest ecologies.
Household Object Design and Prototyping
The first assignment of the term serves as an immersive introduction to both the logistical challenges and design opportunities that architects will inevitably face as human society transitions to a Circular Economy (CE). Given the complexity of such a transition, this assignment will operate within the strict dimensional limitations and analytical system boundaries of a durable and useful household object. Over the course of two weeks, each student will design and fabricate a fully functional physical prototype of that object, analyzing and depicting its lifecycle through graphic visualizations.
Site and Program Analysis
The aim of this analytical assignment is to introduce students to both the conventions of our current linear economy and the potential transition to a circular economy. Each student's analysis will examine the ways in which that transition may inevitably influence architectural design, construction methods and human behavior in the consumption of resources and the occupation of the urban realm. The information gathered and conclusions drawn will be utilized and tested during the design of your building and its lifecycle, the next and final phase of the semester’s work. Topics studied to include:
Domestic spatial configurations
Energy production and distribution systems
Materials and construction
Transit and infrastructure
Designing within a Circular Economy
The first two assignments produce a robust background of research, analysis and design experimentation that forms the foundation of an architectural design process. It will now begin to inform the project that becomes the focus of the remaining weeks of the semester: the design of truly sustainable dwelling space—housing that is environmentally restorative, socially equitable, and economically feasible—for contemporary and future individuals and families. Each student's design proposal, whether developed individually or in collaboration with others, will demonstrate new design approaches to changing modes of resource consumption, land use and urban living.
Perhaps the most critical programmatic challenge of the studio is that each student's design should argue for its own replicability: the capacity of the project’s design principles to be adapted and extended to different sites and even programs within the immediate neighborhood, and possibly beyond its boundaries to the larger district and even to more distant urban realms. In identifying a specific site and block with existing (or at least fully planned) infrastructure and a fixed dimension and orientation, the studio brief establishes a set of physical parameters for the building each student will design. In developing the building solution specified by the studio brief, each student is expected to also convey the principles that form each project's conceptual foundation and create a template for its potential replication and the subsequent dissemination of its underlying principles though future building in a circular economy.
Goals of the Practicum
The design-build practicum is the culminating stage of the study module, an intensive course in design implementation and building construction hosted by each of the participating universities.
Over the course of a summer academic term, a team of students will develop a design for a given building or infrastructure project and realize it under the mentorship of professional faculty in building science, technology, and design.
Building on a long tradition of pioneering design-build studio courses developed by Aalto University (Wood Studio) and the Yale School of Architecture (Jim Vlock Building Project), this course emphasizes innovative circular construction and design methodologies, including the capture of material from the construction waste stream and their reuse and recycling in fully functional building systems, the development of low-carbon building assemblies, and the optimization of building components for end-of life disassembly and reuse.
Circular Design-Build Practicum
This design-build course investigates and applies circular economic principles to architectural design practices by undertaking the design, assessment, and construction of a building or structure that embodies circular economic principles. Through their design of an entirely “circular” building, students will integrate principles of the circular economy into their design, assessment, and construction process, testing the limits of conventional sustainable design practices and developing new strategies for designing low carbon buildings.
As a complement to the traditional expectations of an advanced design studio, this course will introduce students to principles of the circular economy and the research methods, analytical tools, and design techniques necessary to implement circular economic and carbon neutral strategies in the construction of buildings of high quality and minimal carbon footprint. By providing a replicable methodology in the context of a multi-stakeholder and multi-objective building design and construction process, the course provides students with the conceptual and practical knowledge to fully engage the circular economy in the design, analysis, and construction of the built environment.
The final, built project is to be developed as collaborative research, design, and construction effort in tandem with supporting professional consultants or advisers, as required. Students will work individually to develop preliminary design schemes (and their associated structural morphologies and enclosure systems), but will coalesce around a single design strategy that will be developed as a group design project, analyzed for its environmental impact and carbon footprint, and ultimately constructed by the student team. Given the premise of the course, the building or structure will be designed with a specific focus on circular economic strategies, including recycled, regenerate, and biogenic building assemblies, renewable energy sources, rainwater collection and storage, and minimal operating energy.
The semester will divide into two primary phases: the first, a data-gathering and fact-finding period that considers the role of carbon in the building life-cycle, examines current analytical techniques and assessment tools, and weighs the impacts of alternative building technologies; a second phase applies these assessment techniques to the design and construction of the building or structure, including material sourcing, material flow analysis, carbon footprinting, supply chain analysis, construction detailing, building assembly experimentation, and fabrication testing.
The design-build curriculum is broken into three stages:
An individual fact-finding stage in which individual students compile quantitative data on carbon uptake and release at specific stages of a building lifecycle. This work will attempt to identify carbon impacts in the building sector and evaluate them within the largest possible system boundaries.
The collective analysis of carbon-neutral architectural systems. This work will identify materials and building assemblies best suited for reducing the carbon footprint of the building or structure. Students will analyze a matrix of inputs and outputs required for fabricating, assembling, and maintaining the research station, including material extraction sources, manufacturing processes, transportation routes, assembly methods, operational energy requirements, and lifecycle costs.
The collective fabrication and documentation of structural systems, wall assemblies, and building enclosures. This work will build on the Phase 2 collaborative analysis, translating environmental assessments into actionable design strategies. Students will utilize their school's or university's fabrication space for construction 1:1 mock ups of critical building components that will directly inform the eventual construction and installation of the building or structure. Additionally, students will collaborate to develop a comprehensive presentation of research, documentation, and visualizations.