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Interview: “Architects often do not have genuine freedom”

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A young generation of architects, engineers and other planners is calling for new solutions in the building industry. The Architects for Future association is declaring solidarity with global movements for climate protection and campaigning for a sustainable transformation of the construction sector.

We spoke with Jonathan Lunkenheimer, one of the initiative’s co-founders, about its goals, resource conservation in building projects, pioneering materials and strategies for a green architecture of the future.

3d printed Model of housing created with reusable and recyclable materials: WASP House made of clay by MCA - Mario Cucinella Architects and TECLA (Source: WASP)

The call for new parameters

Mr Lunkenheimer, Architects for Future is calling for new solutions for the construction sector that are good for the climate, bio-diversity, human health and social justice. What do you see as the greatest challenges in this transformation?

One major problem is that architects often do not have genuine freedom to choose the most environmentally friendly option. Instead, they are constrained by financial or systemic factors. As a result, targeting political decision-makers is an important element of our work as we encourage them to create the framework conditions that can facilitate sustainable building.

How are you increasing awareness of sustainability issues among political decision-makers and the construction industry?

We want to make everyone who works in the building industry aware of their responsibility regarding climate change. We are calling on everyone to utilise their freedom to act to help shape a liveable future. We do this through public appearances, posts on social media and networking meetings in local groups.

Coworking Space Impact Hub Berlin

Community and coworking space in circular design: Impact Hub Berlin in CRCLR-House. (Source: LXSY Architekten/photo: Studio Bowie)

New possibilities for conserving resources

How can resources best be conserved in construction projects?

The most effective way of saving resources is to avoid new-builds altogether! So the first thing that should be checked is whether the purpose of a building can be fulfilled without materials-intensive new construction – for example through shared use, conversion or the renovation of existing buildings.

And in terms of materials, where do you see the greatest potential for the transition to sustainable construction?

When it comes to sustainable materials, I personally see the greatest potential in insulation made of raw materials that grow back quickly such as straw, hemp, reed and seaweed. There are two good reasons for this. Our most pressing challenge if we are to cut the environmental footprint of the building sector is finding ways to reduce the heating demands of buildings dating from the post-war period. By implementing energy-saving measures in these buildings, we can achieve a significant climate benefit with very little materials use. And if you choose natural materials of biological origin, you also take CO2 out of the atmosphere and bind it over the long term.

Jonathan Lunkenheimer

Jonathan Lunkenheimer from Architects for Future (Source: Jonathan Lunkenheimer)

Circular economy for future construction

Which strategies for better resource efficiency do you believe will be useful for the architecture of the future?

In addition to favouring the use of renewable raw materials, it is particularly important to establish a genuine circular economy. Especially in areas where it doesn’t make sense to use biological materials for technical reasons, it’s vital to facilitate the high-grade recycling of components. To do that, it needs to be possible to separate components without breaking them and we need new business models that make it easier to access used components. We would therefore really encourage manufacturers of furniture and other interior design goods to take back their products after first use in order to return them to the market after refurbishment.

Jonathan Lunkenheimer is a founding member of Architects for Future, and teaches at TH Köln (Cologne University of Applied Sciences) and conducts research on sustainable construction materials. He will be introducing the Architects for Future association and talking about climate-positive construction on the Trend Stage at the upcoming interzum trade fair on 10 May 2023.

You’ll find additional information about Jonathan Lunkenheimer’s talk and on all the other sessions held on the Trend Stage via the interzum event search.