From homeowners to architects, planners, policymakers and the construction industry, See Through Building is a new forum to focus effective climate action
Who Knew Buildings Mattered So Much?
Most people are surprised to hear buildings are currently responsible for 39% of global energy-related carbon emissions.
Maybe this is because they don’t move, we take them for granted, and we’ve evolved to spot moving things like smoke or flames, rather than calculate historic sunk carbon costs in the built environment.
When we do think about buildings and carbon, it’s usually in the context of heating/cooling/powering them. ‘Operational emissions’ indeed account for 28% of total global carbon emissions. We tend to think less about the 11% that’s ’embedded’ in the materials and construction process, but this is still more than 5 times the energy consumed by the aviation industry, which looms so large in public discourse.
What’s the point of See Through Building?
Building, maintaining and retro-fitting our homes and workplaces is a huge and complex field, and this is a problem in itself. All the ‘stakeholders’ tend to talk to each other, occupying their own silos of debate, with limited reference to other parts of the construction food chain, upstream, downstream or parallel.
Architects talk to architects, builders to builders, planners to planners, material suppliers to material suppliers, residents to residents, policymakers to policymakers, yet any effective climate action will require a concerted, coordinated effort from all links in the chain.
See Through Building is intended to be one such forum, where those committed to carbon drawdown from all aspects on building, construction, the built environment, planning, policy etc. can talk to each other, share thoughts, debate ideas, compare notes, make suggestions, and help each other.
These forums will exists on a variety of platforms, to make it accessible as possible. For the moment, they are:
- here on this website
- in this Facebook Group
Informing The Act Game
See Through Games is a practical way of converting the Inactive to effective climate action.
The sharp end of this project, the part that can directly lead to measurably reducing carbon, is The Act Game.
The Act Game empowers players to email their political representatives, whether they’re nominally ‘servants’ in electoral democracies or ‘masters’ in autocracies, with highly specific instructions that they support the implementation of highly specific, tightly-worded government regulations.
A key, pragmatic and unique function of See Through Building is to help formulate these tightly-worded clauses, based on all stakeholders’ practical experience of their Inactive colleagues impeding such legislation, lobby to water it down, or gaming existing legislation via loopholes.
As well as a discussion forum for sharing ideas, See Through Building will build a library of free online resource for anyone interested in providing places for people to live, work and play without pumping more carbon into Earth’s atmosphere.
These include See Through Building’s own resources, such as the documentary on zero-carbon pioneer Bill Dunster below, suggested discussion points, references and resources.
These resources are designed to stimulate discussion amongst all kinds of builders and building users, from architects CPD (continuous professional development), to student seminars, house-builders and home-owners.
See Through Building is provided pro bono by non-profit social media network See Through News, to further its Goal of:
Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown By Helping the Inactive Become Active
As a starting point, See Through Building will be making documentaries on building topics available as a free resource, in concert with our YouTube channel Playlist, Facebook Group and broader social media network.
Bill Dunster documentary
This documentary was directed and produced by See Through News founder Robert Stern. It was originally made by Litmus Films for Japanese public broadcaster NHK in 2006.
This 2006 profile of British zero-carbon pioneer Bill Dunster still resonates.
When Dunster’s revolutionary BedZed housing development was built at the turn of the millennium, it made a big splash. Locals were delighted by its iconic multicoloured Teletubby wind vanes (actually ventilation system intakes disguised as kinetic sculpture). Architects around the world were inspired by its revolutionary principles.
But decades after it broke the mould, BedZed remains an oasis of zero-carbon innovation amid a desert of heat-leaking South London semis.
Today, BedZed still attracts architectural pilgrims from around the world, yet new developments going up around it are pretty much the same ‘noddy boxes’ Dunster was seeking to replace.
This film highlights Dunster’s mission to overturn the obstacles to zero-carbon commercial building.
But the fact that it was made in 2006 makes for uncomfortable viewing – how much has actually changed?
Ben Law Video
This short video made to crowdfund a documentary series on ‘Britain’s greatest living woodsman’ Ben Law.
Ben is best known as a natural builder. The story of how he built his stunning home, with friends, on a shoestring, entirely from natural materials from within a mile or so of his home in Prickly Nut Wood, is consistently voted the viewers favourite ever episode of the British TV series Grand Designs.
But as this taster video explains, there’s much more to Ben’s life than natural building. This crowdfunding attempt failed to meet its target, but Litmus Films has now made this resource available for free to See Through Building, a forum created by See Through News to promote zero-carbon construction.
For decades, Ben Law has passed on his hard-won expertise in everything from sweet chestnut coppicing, to round timber construction, charcoal-making, rustic furniture and many other other woodland skills.
He’s written books, run courses, and taken on two apprentices every year, in his efforts to communicate and inspire others to share the pleasure and satisfaction he derives from his sustainable lifestyle. After Grand Designs, this has been the only time he’s allowed documentary cameras into his Prickly Nut Wood home to tell his remarkable story.
Suggested Discussion Points
We hope different audiences will learn different things, draw different conclusions, and raise different questions from these two films.
Here are some suggested discussion points – let us know your own and we’ll add them here.
- These two films provide very different perspectives on building, one large-scale and commercial, the other self-build and personal, but they share a common architectural philosophy. What is it?
- Bill Dunster and Ben Law both personify, and inspire, the idea that sustainability is a pleasure, and not a penance. In their daily lives, commuting within suburban London and coppicing in Sussex woodland, both live sustainable lifestyles that are aspirational, rather than some kind of worthy sacrifice. And both have struggled against official regulations, building codes, and nimbyism. Have these obstacles changed since these films were made?
- These stories profile two builders fighting their own separate battles for a sustainable future, in very different circumstances, using very different methods. What do they have in common?
- Neither Bill Dunster nor Ben Law wanted (or want – they’re both still alive and kicking) to be one-off mavericks, or Cassandras. They seek to change attitudes at all levels, from the materials we use to build, to the way we live our lives. Both have received overwhelmingly positive responses from the public, and from their peers. Why is change so hard for the construction industry and its regulators?
- Both documentaries were originally commissioned by Japanese public broadcaster NHK (Japan’s equivalent of the BBC). Neither Bill Dunster nor Ben Law had been approached by the BBC to have similar films made about them. Why were Japanese public television more interested in these British stories than the BBC?
- The climate crisis has intensified massively since these films were made, both in real-world impact and in social and political acceptance of the reality and cause of global heating. What changes have you seen in attitudes to carbon reduction in your personal life, and how have these been reflected in your professional work?
Here are some suggestions for free, accessible, inspiring online resources for anyone interested in sustainability in the built environment.
This list is not intended to be comprehensive, as there are many other specialist zero-carbon construction resources available online, but these are particularly accessible websites from architects who exemplify a practical zero-carbon approach to the build environment, aligning with the See Through News Fun. Friendly. Factful. ethos.
The website of Bill Dunster’s practice, ZEDfactory. It’s packed not only with examples of Bill’s work over the decades, but also with practical zero-carbon solutions and references. It is a great resource for all scales of zero-carbon construction, from entire cities to individual emergency shelters.
Created single-handedly by a key See Through News volunteer, this is a fantastic site to explore. On the home page is an array of inspiring, intriguing and stunning pictures of naturally built homes around the world, all made from natural materials, none including a gramme of concrete. The site is designed to empower anyone to build such homes themselves. Its rich, sophisticated structure is brilliantly designed to lead you down a path from ‘chocolate box’ admiration to making your own natural home from renewable, non-carbon intensive materials, via a range of practical solutions and resources appropriate for downtown New Jersey or rural Nigeria.
Fielden Clegg Bradley employ a key See Through News volunteer, and Subject Expert Panellist for our See Through Carbon Competition, Dr. Joe Jack Williams. They’re among the world’s leading sustainable architectural practices, and their website includes lots of practical ideas and resources, as well as examples of their own work.
Finally, for a more inspirational/artistic practice, take a look at Tonkin Liu architects. They’re a small practice that has won many awards, and all their work is based reconnecting Nature, the built environment, and the humans living in it.
Ben Law, the natural builder featured in one of the documentary resources above, is also a prolific writer and teacher on round-frame timber constructions. His website showcases his deep understanding of woodland crafts, and determinatin to share such sustainable knowledge as widely as possible.
Please feel free to comment, or add your own suggestions.