Acclaimed environmental researcher Michael Braungart wants to shake-up the way structures are designed, and is inspiring architects, planners, building contractors, district developers and investors with his contribution to the 15th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice. “Sustainable construction shouldn’t be about less harmful structures – but creating buildings and infrastructure that generate the most beneficial to the environment”, he says.
Instead of attempting to reduce the ecological footprint of a building by increasing its energy efficiency, his Cradle to Cradle (C2C) concept aims to make homes useful and healthy for both people and the environment: structures that serve as material banks and as cleansers for air and water while celebrating the diversity of culture and nature. For example, water efficiency for “conservative green” attempts to develop porous surfaces to make as if the streets, roofs, and sidewalks are not there; but we could look at roofs and streets as giant water collectors which enable efficient (programmed) water management. With the right infrastructure, there is a planned benefit that replaces the weak force of responsibility (guilt) with the powerful force of a potential gain (desire). In short: buildings and infrastructure that leave behind a positive footprint.
Michael Braungart (pictured, right) is the Founder and Scientific CEO of EPEA Internationale Umweltforschung, an international environmental research and consulting institute based in Hamburg – and is also a member of the LafargeHolcim Roundtable that examines “Re-Materializing Construction”. He developed the cradle-to-cradle concept for eco-effective products where the product and its production process loop is not only harmless to nature, but is beneficial.
The Biennale is a great opportunity to explore the meaning of beneficial buildings with practical examples, and an ideal place to directly challenge things, where the status quo cannot be accepted. Curator of the Biennale and LafargeHolcim Foundation Board member, Alejandro Aravena explains the motto: “Reporting from the front is about sharing the work of people who are scrutinizing the horizon, looking for new fields of action, facing issues like segregation, inequalities, peripheries, natural disasters, waste, pollution and participation of communities, with a broader audience”.
The battle to free us from design errors and encourage positively defined innovation is underway. EPEA and Michael Braungart have been operating on this front line for decades. Still more time, and courageous decisions, are needed to bring about a new industrial revolution in society. The approach encompasses all aspects of a building: its construction, energy, materials and utility as well as its value as a nutrient deposit and its ability to be fully recycled to a high standard.
With the Cradle to Cradle design concept we can change the built environment and make buildings like trees and cities like forests. Instead of becoming less bad or reducing our footprint, it is possible to make buildings beneficial for humans and our environment: healthy material banks which clean the air and water, and support biodiversity and ecosystems. In this way, we can truly celebrate our positive human footprint.
“Celebrating our human footprint: A building like a tree – a city like a forest” is on display at the Central Pavilion (Giardini) exhibition rooms until November 27, 2016.