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Economic viability: a key to sustainable construction

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The BIG-U project by Bjarke Ingels Group addresses the vulnerability of New York City to coastal flooding and proposes a protective ribbon around lower Manhattan. The master plan won the Holcim Awards Silver 2014 for North America, and uses a raised berm strategically to create a sequence of public spaces along the water’s edge along the raised bank. Inspiring a network of construction experts around the globe, providing a platform for the exchange of views and showcasing outstanding examples in sustainable construction are the top priorities of the Holcim Foundation. Established in 2003, by Holcim Ltd (parent company of ACC and Ambuja Cement) it remains decidedly forward-looking.

A significant initiative of the Foundation is the Holcim Forum – the global conference on sustainable construction, most recently held at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT Bombay). 400 representatives of various sciences and industries from around 40 countries set out to explore the topic of “Economy of Sustainable Construction”.

Few cities represent as many aspects of the economy of construction as Mumbai: It is the location of the biggest, most expensive private home, while many inhabitants of the Indian metropolis have to fight for a roof over their heads. The challenges facing Mumbai’s authorities are enormous and yet it is brimming with energy, hope, and opportunity. The city therefore, offered a perfect setting and plenty of illustrative material to stimulate reflection on the topic.

Keynote speakers including British architect Sir David Chipperfield, Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, ETH Zurich economist Lucas Bretschger and Indian architect Brinda Somaya, expressed their views on the forum topic. Participants were then able to join one of four workshops and further explore the topic in lectures, discussions and guided excursions.

All architects are always terrified when it comes to the question: How do we approach sustainability?

– Sir David Chipperfield

This Holcim Awards winning project, 20km west of Dharmapuri in Tamil Nadu, uses a “building within a building” concept as a response to the extreme hot semi-arid climate. The healthcare building by Flying Elephant Studio has a high-tech core surrounded by low-tech community space.  When it comes to sustainability, British architect David Chipperfield is especially interested in the notion of permanence – fully aware that longevity is not exactly fashionable these days. He opened the series of keynote speeches at the Holcim Forum. “In this age of throwaway and the redundancy of everyday things, taking care of, valuing, and treasuring seem old fashioned concepts.” He applies the term “permanence” not simply to the physical properties of a building, such as mass and materiality but, seeing it much more as a declaration of lasting priorities. “The organization of buildings and their integration in a larger whole give shape and solidity to our vague ideas of society.” His office has become famous for conducting its renovation and expansion projects accordingly.

The construction sector is one of the most important energy consumers on earth – in most countries it uses up to 40% of the primary energy. It is also the world’s largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. It is responsible for ten percent of the global GDP, and it provides employment for some 111 million people.

– Lucas Bretschger

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