There is No Planet B: How CRTKL is Ensuring a Resilient Future

Anne Dullaghan April 22, 2020

April 22nd represents the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a celebration founded by Harvard graduate student Denis Hayes as a national teach-in about environmentalism. CallisonRTKL’s Matthew Tribe, executive director in the firm’s Dubai office, and Pablo La Roche, associate vice president in the Los Angeles office, reflect on what Earth Day 2020 means to architecture and design.

Are there any ideas in design with regard to helping the climate? What is the current role architects and designers play in sustainability – and will continue to play in the future?

La Roche: Climate change is the most serious environmental threat facing our planet. Buildings generate nearly 40% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions that affect climate change. The solution to climate change is design. As designers of the built environment, we can reduce these building emissions. We can do this by designing carbon-neutral buildings that have low-embodied carbon and emit zero carbon during their operation. We do this by implementing appropriate design strategies and materials, energy efficiency measures, and renewable energy production. As we refurbish existing buildings, we also have to improve their performance to reduce emissions of existing building stock.

Carbon-neutral design is an opportunity to design beautiful, climate-responsive, healthy buildings that are integrated with the environment and that are filled with happy occupants. As we design these buildings, I would argue that sometimes, the best way to move forward is to look backward. The better way forward is for architecture to incorporate “passive” design strategies, daylight, natural ventilation, passive heating; all of which connects us with the environment around us, with its daily and seasonal rhythms, while reducing emissions at the same time.

We can also learn from nature and the processes that living organisms implement to adapt to a site. We should use the wide range of technologies and digital tools that we have available — for example, genetic algorithms to create them and building performance simulation software to evaluate them. Advanced materials will also improve building performance through evolution in areas such as thermal storage, thermal insulation, coatings, phase change materials, variable transmittance glazing and thermochromic materials.

We need technical knowledge to innovate and ensure that our ideas will work, but we also need sustainable design skills. Architecture is the marriage of art and science, and we need to successfully align them so that our designs perform beautifully. Our buildings not only have to perform well, but they must also be resilient and designed for passive survivability.

And finally, make no mistake: It is not possible to solve the climate change crisis if we don’t work together. Reducing our impact on the climate is an emergency and we must act accordingly.

Guadalajara International Airport, Terminal 2: With research-backed, sustainable design strategies like solar energy harvest points and the roof’s mechanical cooling systems, designers plan to reduce the airport’s energy use and achieve net-zero emissions.

What are the steps that have been taken to create sustainable smart cities?

Tribe: With only 10 years left to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there’s been an increased region-wide priority to address the pressing challenges related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. Through collaborations between the public and private sector, countries in the [EMEA] region have already embedded the SDGs into their policy planning and put in place the necessary building blocks that effectively address sustainability challenges.

Initiatives put in place by governmental bodies strive to ensure sustainable development while also preserving the environment. The focus is on improving air quality, increasing the contribution of clean energy and preserving natural resources, while fostering real economic growth and social development. As a result of creating smart, gender-responsive, accessible cities of the future, people now have access to healthcare, exciting work prospects and increased education opportunities.

This effort is gaining momentum with many of CRTKL’s clients interested in sustainable urbanization and the creation of smart, accessible, resilient and vibrant cities of the future.  For example, in cooperation with the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat), CRTKL has completed a strategic master plan for Ras El Hekma, a 200 sq km region along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. Based on the UN SDGs, Ras El Hekma is planned to foster economic development by creating opportunities for eco-sensitive tourism, while at the same time investing in development of the indigenous communities and resources. While conserving natural amenities and resources, the master plan creates an attractive destination for up to 50 hotels projected to attract up three million tourists annually. New communities are planned to be home to approximately 100,000 residents and investment will continue in the improvement of existing settlements. Driven by smart technology and the development of renewable energy resources, CRTKL’s plan for Ras El Hekma will address fundamental liveability problems that are facing urban communities in the region. We hope that this project can be a model for similar initiatives.

Ras El Hekma: With a design based on the UN SDGs, Ras El Hekma is planned to foster economic development via creating opportunities for eco-sensitive tourism, while at the same time investing in the development of existing indigenous communities and resources.

Does sustainability have a role to play in building for a better society?

La Roche: Yes, it does! A big one. Sustainable design must also address social inequities. It is not enough to design the latest and greatest high-performance building; we must also design for those who have the least. During extreme heat events, for example, inadequate building design and expensive energy make air conditioning prohibitive for the poor. The right design strategies can address the issue of energy poverty.

Tribe: It would be interesting to go back and retrospectively ask a developer if their build was about community or if it was simply about being energy efficient. We can create developments that use less energy, we can use technology to manage our waste and use water more sparingly, but is that really the goal?

To exponentially achieve better-performing cities and stronger, more cohesive communities, you have to start with society first. We have always looked at citizens first to set up the proper planning and design framework that responds to the needs of the community and its long-term wellbeing.  It is fundamental that we understand the implications of everything that we do and the responsibility that goes with it, to ensure that we deliver contextually relevant and environmentally tuned planning and design solutions.

How you can participate

In this time when we’re sheltering in place and slowing down, Earth Day presents an opportunity to reflect on our purpose as architects and designers — and the broader world around us. Join Earth Day Live on April 22 to find a range of interesting worldwide digital Earth Day events.

Author Spotlight

Anne Dullaghan
Anne Dullaghan is a Content Writer for CallisonRTKL. Based in Los Angeles, she has more than a decade of professional experience in journalism and marketing communications for the architectural, financial services, healthcare, technology, higher education, real estate, manufacturing and nonprofit industries. In addition to her marketing communications work, her articles have appeared in a variety of consumer and trade publications. Anne received her Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.