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World Habitat Day: Architects urged to accelerate climate action through designs

Members of the Akwa Ibom State Chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA) gathered on Monday, October 4, 2021, to celebrate World Habitat Day with the theme, “Accelerating Urban Action for a Carbon-free World”. The event also commemorated the World Architecture Day with the theme, “Clean Environment for a Healthy World”.

Nnimmo Bassey
Nnimmo Bassey

As the institute came together to examine the state of architecture, urban design and climate change, there were strong calls on architects and allied professionals involved in the design and built environment to be committed to erecting structures that would stem the tide of carbon emissions.

Nigeria is severely impacted by climate change, including through floods, droughts, increased heat, water stress and increasing land loss due to coastal erosion in the South, and desertification in the North.

Coastal erosion is accompanied by salinisation of freshwater systems, thereby exacerbating species loss. Deforestation is a major contributor to global warming and impacts on food production. Unbridled flaring of associated gas poses threats to the climate, environmental/human health, and agricultural production. Oil spillages equally add to the crisis through the dumping of the highly volatile hydrocarbon products into the environment.

The event had three presentations which were presented by Professor Ekpenyong Bassey Itam of the Cross River University of Technology; Dr Eno Nyong, a practicing architect and inventor; and Nnimmo Bassey of Base Consult.

Chairman of the Akwa Ibom State Chapter of the NIA, Dr Enobong Equere, stressed that the event was organised to “set the ball rolling for public discourse on how to accelerate action for a carbon-free world in our own local space.”

She added that the discussions would give direction on how professionals in the built environment can participate on ensuring the reduction of carbon footprints in our localities.

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In his presentation, Bassey, a fellow of the NIA who is also an environmental activist, noted that climate change is an existential threat to all living beings on Earth and is thus a fundamental design problem of our time.

“It is often stated that cities are responsible for some 70 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions with transport, buildings, energy, and waste management accounting for the bulk of urban greenhouse gas emissions. The process of building delivery and their utilisation are hugely responsible for global warming by reason of the energy needed to extract and process building materials and the energy needed to maintain habitable temperatures as well as general maintenance of the structures.

“The main culprits here, as you may suspect, include the emissions related to cement production and the burning of fossil fuels for energy production. The theme for this World Habitat Day highlights carbon-neutrality. With the upcoming COP26 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the world has been regaled with a vision of a ‘net-zero’ carbon future.

“While making supreme effort not to jump into the carbon-neutral or net-zero arguments at this point, it is pertinent to state that the concepts require considerable unpacking as they centre on needed climate action and are embedded in the theme of the Day.”

He stressed the need for a carbon-free world, stating that although a simple answer would be that we cannot have a carbon-free world, we can try to end or considerably reduce the emission of carbon to within a concentration level that is tolerable.

“Besides carbon dioxide, other gases of concern in the atmosphere are methane and nitrous oxides. Ozone is also a greenhouse gas but is found mostly in the stratosphere and is useful in absorbing and preventing harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun from reaching the earth.

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“Global warming occurs due to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Heat comes from the sun in short waves, but when bounced off the earth they go up in short waves. Whereas the short waves pass through the atmosphere without resistance, the greenhouse gases trap some of the long waves trying to exit the atmosphere. What this tells us is that we do need greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, otherwise we would freeze. The trouble is that when the concentration of the greenhouse gases gets higher than they ought to be, we set the stage to be roasted,” he stated.

He then tasked the architects to become aware of sea level rise which places most of Southern Nigeria at risk of going under water due to the region’s low-lying nature and the fact that the geographic Niger Delta is a naturally subsiding zone.

“The immediate response here must include the use of flexible construction materials and designs that are ecologically conscious. Architects must pay more attention to the immediate and larger urban landscape in which their creations sit. As architects we are often deeply concerned about form and efficient spatiality. We work to consciously ensure that our built spaces consume as little cooling, lighting, ventilation, and maintenance costs. As good as these are, considering the threat of climate change, we should also be concerned about what is called the embodied energy or the sum of energy required to produce goods and services.

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“Embodied energy includes the energy utilised in mining the needed raw materials. In the building sector this also includes the construction and replacement/demolition of our buildings- quarrying, cement production, smelting steel, baking of the bricks, transportation of materials to site and their installation, dismantling and carting away.”

Bassey also urged architects to ponder on issues like the romance with certain climate-harming building materials such as concrete and steel. He urged them to reduce wasteful use of materials and to work with other professionals towards promoting the greening of urban areas. He stressed the need to set aside spaces for urban farming and avoid the cementification of spaces and encouragement of vehicular free zones in urban areas.

He also called on architects to avoid aping of postcard architecture and design respectful and culturally sensitive spaces with designs that are self-sufficient in terms of energy needs such as by using solar power.

“If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives low to the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle every day to protect their forests, their mountains and their rivers because they know that the forests, the mountains and the rivers protect them.

“The first step toward re-imagining a world gone terribly wrong would be to stop the annihilation of those who have a different imagination – an imagination that is outside capitalism as well as communism. An imagination which has an altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfilment,” he stressed.

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