What is the Net-Zero Architecture? Design terms and strategies


What is the Net-Zero Architecture? Design terms and strategies

As revolutionary as today’s construction industry may seem, it accounts for nearly 40% of global carbon dioxide emissions, of which 11% is the result of the manufacture of building materials such as steel, cement and glass. Fast forward a few years later, after a life-altering global pandemic and indisputable evidence of climate change, CO2 emissions are still on the rise, reaching an all-time high in 2020 according to the 2020 Global State of Buildings and Construction Report. Although much progress has been made through advances in technology, design strategies and concepts, and construction processes, there is still a long way to go to reduce carbon emissions to a minimum or near zero in developing environments. built.

Conservatory.  Image © Onnis LuqueHouse Agency.  Image © Philippe RuaultNet zero energy house / Lifethings.  Image © Kyungsub ShinZero House / Tenio.  Image © AWESOME+ 9

Reacting to the alarming statistics, governments have put in place several action plans to limit carbon emissions and ensure environmental sustainability. In July 2021, the European Commission adopted a set of proposals aimed at reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030. Earlier this year, the commission launched its second edition of the New European Bauhaus program, an initiative designed to transform the built environment into one that is more sustainable and socially valuable.

As the world embarks on a mission towards a net zero environment, here are some terms that encompass net zero architecture.

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Net-Zero Architecture

By definition, “net zero”, also known as carbon neutrality, is the act of negating or canceling the amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activity, reducing existing emissions and implementing methods of absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Although net-zero buildings represent a fragment of new construction projects, the technology, tools, and knowledge that architects have acquired over the past few years have made net-zero building design the new normal. To design net zero buildings, we have listed 7 elements to consider to contribute to this overall goal. The list includes the use of bioclimatic architecture and passive concepts, the supply of renewable energy on site whenever possible, the use of energy efficient appliances and lighting and the consideration of the integrated carbon. Beyond architecture, planners have also tried to come up with strategies to create eco-friendly communities. In 2018, Architecture for Humans proposed the Zero Emission Neighborhood, an eco-village concept in the city of Pristina, Kosovo, which ensures optimal sustainability for the entire community through “zero emission” buildings, passive design strategies, active solar systems and energy savings. Appliances.

Net Zero Village.  Image © Architecture for Humans
Net Zero Village. Image © Architecture for Humans

Net zero energy

Net zero energy is when the building is able to offset or offset the amount of energy needed to build and operate throughout its lifetime in all aspects of the site, source, cost and emissions. In other words, the building is capable of producing enough energy to cancel or “zero” the amount of energy needed for its daily operation. Net zero energy buildings are often designed according to these three criteria: “produce energy on site via equipment such as solar panels or wind turbines, account for its energy consumption via off-site clean energy production and reduce the amount of energy required through design optimization”. Achieving it does not depend entirely on building efficiency, but on reducing the energy load and then using renewables to offset the remaining energy. An example of net zero energy buildings is the Net Zero Energy House from Lifethings, where the client wanted a house based on common sense in its design, construction and budget. The 230 m² house includes photovoltaic panels, solar heat recovery tubes, a wood boiler, four kitchens and four bathrooms, all built on a modest budget.

Net zero energy house / Lifethings.  Image © Kyungsub Shin
Net zero energy house / Lifethings. Image © Kyungsub Shin

Net Zero Carbon

Net zero carbon is achieved by reducing construction techniques and building materials that result in high carbon emissions. In other words, Net Zero Carbon = Total Carbon Emissions – Total Carbon Emissions Avoided. Reducing embodied carbon through concise selection of materials and construction techniques often results in reduced harmful chemical releases, which affects occupant productivity and well-being. Manoj Patel Design Studio’s Courtyard House promotes net-zero and carbon-positive operations through intelligent space planning and material selection, while ensuring the emotional and physical well-being of its occupants. The clay tiles on the facade are cut and interlocked in such a way as to explore the wall hangings of the sky and complement the white volume. The structure meets all the climatic and aesthetic needs of the space, thanks in particular to the square patterns that parallel the projections of the sun during the day and give way to the fresh air that only penetrates through the pores.

The Court House / Manoj Patel Design Studio.  Image © MKG Studio
The Court House / Manoj Patel Design Studio. Image © MKG Studio

Carbon emissions and fossil fuels

Carbon emissions, or greenhouse gas emissions, are emissions from cement manufacturing and fossil fuel combustion, and are considered the main cause of climate change. Fossil fuel is another term used to describe non-renewable carbon-based energy sources such as coal, natural and derived gas, crude oil and petroleum products. Although derived from plants and animals, fossil fuels can also be made by industrial mixtures of other fossil fuels, such as turning crude oil into automotive gasoline. It is estimated that nearly 80% of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels, with the construction industry being one of its main contributors.

Courtesy of cove.tool
Courtesy of cove.tool


By definition, durability is when a subject can be sustained, that is, it can be maintained for a long time without being interrupted, disintegrated or weakened in the long term. In architecture, however, the term “sustainability” has been used in various contexts. Some of them indicate being eco-conscious, environmentalists or “meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs» using natural, social and economic resources. With regard to all the “sustainable” projects developed and proposed, it is intended to be a holistic approach taking into account three pillars: the environment, societyand economy, all mediated together to ensure vitality and sustainability. Sustainability is not only implemented on an architectural level through recycled materials and construction techniques, but also on an urban scale. The European Commission, for example, has adopted several national proposals that have pushed the continent to take a step closer to implementing the European Green Dealan action plan that transforms the EU into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy.

Zero House / Tenio.  Image © AWESOME
Zero House / Tenio. Image © AWESOME

passive design

By definition, “passive solar energy is the collection and distribution of energy obtained from the sun by natural, non-mechanical means”, which in architecture has provided buildings with heat, lighting , mechanical power and electricity as naturally as possible. The configuration behind passive systems consists of three types: direct gain, indirect gain, and isolated gain, and takes into account design strategies such as: location relative to the sun, overall shape, and orientation of a design, allocation of interior rooms with respect to sun and wind, placement of windows, sheltered entrance, choice of materials that absorb heat, glass facades / solar windows if necessary, installation of trellis walls, wells light, water features and shading features, to name a few.

Conservatory.  Image © Onnis Luque
Conservatory. Image © Onnis Luque

Adaptive reuse

Architects and urban designers have a responsibility to ensure that the spaces in which people live care for them, the environment, society as a whole, and maintain its cultural and historical value. However, recent years have highlighted many socio-cultural difficulties related to the built environment such as housing crises, demolition of historical monuments, lack of green spaces, etc. One way to deal with these crises was to reuse old structures and supplement them with new elements. or works instead of opting for complete demolition and reconstruction, which would inevitably have generated a much larger carbon footprint. Adaptive reuse can be executed in the form of reuse of materials, interventions in pre-existing architectures, recovery of abandoned architecture or modification of the original function of the space.

Convent of Sant Francesc / David Farm.  Image © Jordi Surroca
Convent of Sant Francesc / David Farm. Image © Jordi Surroca

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