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Climate friendly interior design: The transition to sustainable construction starts with materials

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Our homes are complex structures formed of many materials. These construction materials are increasingly scarce resources. If we are to transform how we build our homes and live in them, alternatives are therefore needed. But how can we transition to sustainable construction in the foreseeable future in a way that leads to environmentally responsible buildings in the long term? Natural and recently developed materials for architecture and interior construction can play a key role in making this transition successful.

The new master plan "Wolfsburg Connect" by Henning Larsen Architects for Volkswagen is intended to set standards for sustainable urbanism. (Source: Henning Larsen Architects)

Growing demand for environmentally responsible construction

A transition to sustainable construction is urgently needed, as a glance at the population growth predicted by the United Nations reveals: According to these forecasts, 9.7 billion people will be living on Planet Earth by 2050. The associated need for additional living space will result in growing demand for environmentally responsible construction methods: The potential to improve climate protection in the construction sector is significant. The industry accounts for around 40 per cent of global CO2 emissions today.

Growing numbers of government funding programmes are being set up to support resource-efficient and climate-friendly building. In Germany, for example, the Federal Ministry for Housing, Urban Development and Building is launching the Climate-Friendly New Construction programme in March 2023. To qualify for funding, buildings must have low greenhouse gas emissions and a high energy efficiency rating, among other requirements.

Sustainable construction in practice

But it’s not just politicians who want to see more buildings that have minimal carbon footprints and cause significantly less environmental pollution – this is what growing numbers of homebuilders want, too. Among other things, this means paying greater attention to the construction materials selected. Using climate-positive materials for renovations and necessary new buildings is one of the key goals for future construction put forward by the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB).

What does this mean in practice? Pioneering concepts presented by architects and designers are already showing potential avenues. Danish studio Henning Larsen Architects is demonstrating what construction could look like in the future at an exhibition currently on show in Berlin. Until the end of March 2023, the exhibition Changing Our Footprint will present tools for calculating the CO2 emissions from building materials alongside information on the development of various bio-based materials such as wood, straw and low-carbon concrete. As “pioneers in sustainable urbanism”, the architects are currently planning a new, climate-friendly district in Wolfsburg with Volkswagen.

HPP-The Cradle

In Düsseldorf, Germany, HPP Architekten are designing for the INTERBODEN Group the office building THE CRADLE in timber hybrid construction as a circular pilot project. (Source: HPP Architekten)

The revival of natural materials

Among the other recent projects that have set out to pioneer environmentally friendly construction is The Cradle, a Düsseldorf office building by HPP Architekten.

The idea behind the timber hybrid construction is to conceive the building as a material depot: All the construction materials will be reused or recycled at the end of their life. Experts see the use of wood in particular as an alternative to steel and concrete. The natural material is a regrowing resource that binds carbon dioxide and meets the desire for healthy interiors. Old beams or boards can be returned to the product cycle as sawn lumber, for example.

An alternative to solid wood in interior construction is provided by modern wood-based materials. They can be supplied cut to size and shape as chipboard or fibreboard and recycled at the end of their useful life. Manufacturers today offer environmentally certified wood-based materials with high functionality and excellent technical performance for use in roofs, walls, floors and ceilings.


The Astrata tiles series by decospan is a wall cladding made from recycled oak beams. (Photo: Decospan)

Innovations for the transition to sustainable construction

One exciting prospect for the construction of sustainable architecture and interiors is a development in steel production. New processes are to enable the production of almost zero-carbon steel. To this end, electricity from renewable sources is used to produce hydrogen by means of electrolysis. In the long term, such “green” hydrogen could replace the coal used up until now in furnaces.

Further innovations are to be expected in the field of surface materials. Current examples include interior panels made from recycled textiles or wood wool. Coatings and surface protection for facades and walls based on regrowing and biodegradable raw materials are also now available. In the field of intelligent surfaces, an innovative absorber material will ensure a longer lifespan for new solar thermal collectors designed for environmentally conscious building operation. Developments like these are broadening the spectrum of new sustainable materials for architecture and interior construction. And they are expanding the range of concepts for “green” buildings. Step by step, they are bringing us closer to the transition to sustainable construction.

What other innovations in sustainable materials are currently being developed? They'll be on display at the forthcoming edition of interzum. The sector’s leading international trade fair will feature new materials and prefabricated components for interior construction from 9 to 12 May 2023. An overview of the exhibiting companies can be found here , a search by product group is possible here .