Architecture and the Apocalypse

Two years ago I began an investigation into the breakdown of architecture and the built environment in the event of an apocalypse.  Without a definite conclusion in mind, one of the most surprising results of the study has been the importance of architectural sustainability both in the event of an apocalypse, and subsequently to avoid such an event.

In 2010, a competition was launched via the website to design the ultimate zombie safe-house. As noted on the site, applicants were asked to address six programmatic issues one might face in a zombie-ridden world under the premise of a global zombie apocalypse, reducing the world to a ‘pre-industrial hostile wilderness’. The first issue is of course to keep zombies out. The five remaining issues, however, are not far off from issues society is facing today including: how to manufacture power, provide water, and dispose of waste.

In a 2011 entry from an unknown applicant, we can see the Eiffel Tower transformed into a self-sustaining home for apocalyptic survivors. A wind turbine has been added to the top of the tower providing power for the inhabitants. A large funnel collects rainwater to be used for drinking and watering crops, which are vertically farmed up the tower’s structure. Further entries make use of a wide range of historical monuments around the world ranging from the Statue of Liberty to the Parthenon.

Over the next two weeks negotiators from 195 countries around the world are meeting in Paris at the COP21 (Conference of Parties) also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference to develop solutions to this crisis. As climate change is thrust into the global spotlight, so is its impactful relationship with architecture and design. While sustainable architecture gains ground both in terms of necessity and applicability, it is still often viewed as a bonus feature rather than a necessity while buildings today account for more than 40% of energy consumption and roughly a third of all greenhouse gas emissions around the globe. 

When we think about sustainable architecture, the term ‘energy efficiency’ is something that immediately comes to mind; specifically that which corresponds to the daily operation of a particular building. This overarching concern for energy consumption has led to the coining of terms such as ‘net-zero’ or ‘zero-energy’ buildings. The idea of ‘zero-energy’ in this sense is grossly misleading as it ignores the embodied energy (the energy used throughout a building’s full life-cycle from construction and maintenance to demolition) and focuses solely on energy used in daily operations.

Susannah Hagan writes in her 2001 book, Taking Shape, “Those already involved in ‘sustainable architecture’ maintain that the distinction ‘sustainable’ is temporary, as one day all architecture will be environmentally sustainable.” 

As we move further into the 21st Century, it is only becoming clearer that a need for architecture that works with nature, rather than against it, is becoming increasingly important. As architects and designers it is our duty to make this change and relay its importance to our clients. Perhaps then it is time for a new definition of architecture; one that moves beyond the traditional notions of form and function, expanding to form, function, and environment.

Edward Mulligan, Designer