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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Ten questions concerning future buildings beyond zero energy and carbon neutrality


Architects and planners have been at the forefront of envisioning a future built environment for millennia. However, fragmental views that emphasize one facet of the built environment, such as energy, environment, or groundbreaking technologies, often do not achieve expected outcomes. Buildings are responsible for approximately one-third of worldwide carbon emissions and account for about 40% of primary energy consumption in the U.S. In addition to achieving the very ambitious goal of reducing building-associated greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by 2050, buildings must improve their functionality and performance to meet current and future human, societal, and environmental needs in a changing world. In this article, we introduce a new framework to guide potential evolution of the building stock in the next century, based on greenhouse gas emissions as the common thread to investigate the potential implications of new design paradigms, innovative operational strategies, and disruptive technologies. This framework emphasizes integration of multidisciplinary knowledge, scalability for mainstream buildings, and proactive approaches considering constraints and unknowns. The framework integrates the interrelated aspects of the built environment through a series of quantitative metrics that aim to improve environmental outcomes while optimizing building performance to achieve healthy, adaptive, and productive buildings.

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