Bioclimatic architecture: stone earmarked as a green supermaterial

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By Anders Lorenzen

The demand for building greener homes has never been greater than it is now due to the urgency of responding to the climate crisis. 

One standard being looked at to make homes more climate-friendly is bioclimatic architecture. It refers to the design of buildings and spaces – both indoors and outdoors and it is based on the local climate and aims to provide comfort both visually but also physically and is making use of available technologies that mirror the local environment, such as solar energy, natural stone cladding and other materials available in the local environments. For instance, It could be made up of basic elements such as passive solar systems which are incorporated onto buildings, or green walls and utilise various environmental sources (for instance, sun, air, wind, vegetation, water, soil, sky) for heating, cooling and lighting of the buildings.

The magic of stone

And within that, a building material that has been around since the early days of human civilisation has seen a resurgence amongst architects feeling inspired by nature and who have a desire to build more minimalistic and it is being touted more and more like a green building supermaterial; stone. 

Sometimes you should not reinvent the wheel. Stone has been used by humanity for generations before being taken over by energy-intensive building materials such as steel and concrete around the industrial revolution. 

But by taking a leaf out of the bioclimatic architecture’s book and going back to nature one finds in stone a product which compared to concrete – a material used in almost every single construction is not only much cheaper but is also fireproof and perhaps most important of all has a tiny carbon footprint

So what is bioclimatic architecture and how does it help to slow down climate change? 

According to the architect Amin Taha, the material is the great forgotten material of our time. In 99% of cases, it’s cheaper and greener to use stone in a structural way, as opposed to concrete or steel, but we mostly just think of using it for cladding, he explains.

And not surprising in many of Taha’s buildings in urban landscapes such as in London using stone is a dominant factor. The architect further explains that when using stone for structure and floors they have 95% less embodied carbon and is 75% cheaper. He adds that if you, for instance, substituted a cross-laminated timber floor with a stone floor it would make the building carbon negative. 

Look towards nature

The trend in the new wave of sustainable buildings seems to be one where using stone is again a more dominant feature, such as in the Equinox Passive House in which a facade made of local stones is a key ingredient. Apart from reducing the need for transportation and thereby the associated pollution, using stone was also key in reducing the heating needs by 90%.

While in order to scale up decarbonisation efforts, a huge effort is placed upon how to reduce the emissions from steel and cement – the two biggest emitters as well as the two most widely used materials in the construction industry.  But perhaps one should look a bit closer to home and nature. We might not need to use such artificial and energy-hungry inventions as steel and concrete but could find that nature has in fact already developed the solutions for us. Now we just need to use them. 

And a growing number of the new wave of green-minded architects believes that one of the best ways to decarbonise our economies is to use products mimicking and found in nature. 

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