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Concrete – not plastic – is the new CO2 nightmare


A report last year said important changes were needed to align with the Paris Agreement targets, which require the cement sector’s annual emissions to fall by 16 per cent by 2030. Yet global demand means the sector is in fact rapidly expanding.

Responding to the research, carbon emissions expert and adviser to the RIBA Stirling Prize jury Simon Sturgis called on architects and engineers to develop a ‘much better understanding of the materials they specify’.

‘There are alternatives to cement such as the waste from steel production, although this is not in huge supply,’ he added. 

Sturgis pointed out that many concrete structures are ‘over-designed with a large margin for safety’ and that more lean and efficient use of concrete should be encouraged. He also noted the exploration of timber alternatives by architects including SOM.

Anthony Thistleton, director of Waugh Thistleton Architects, a pioneer and champion of the use of cross-laminated timber (CLT) on multistorey buildings, called on architects to move out of the ‘concrete age’ and into the ‘timber age’.

‘Concrete is beautiful and versatile but, unfortunately, it ticks all the boxes in terms of environmental degradation,’ he said. ’Our profession has deified the Modernists and still thinks primarily about how a building looks.

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