Decarbonization and Energy Efficiency in Latin America: How to Progress Towards a More Sustainable Architecture?
In the context of global initiatives to promote energy efficiency and the decarbonization of buildings, Latin America is at the center of the debate. The International Seminar on Sustainable and NetZero Buildings 2023, held in Bogotá and organized by CCCS, IEA, UNIANDES, CAF, and CEELA, aimed primarily to create a space for the exchange of experiences, such as Oliver Schütte’s No Footprint House, while simultaneously conducting a review of government policies and the implementation of norms and standards in the region.
Among panels and conferences featuring Clara Camarasa, Nicola Borregaard, Laura Chapa, Paola Valencia, Iván Osuna, Juan Carlos Vega, Angélica Ospina, and Diego Velandia, five main learnings emerged as lessons: from creating more relevance and energy calculations to the development of the timber industry – and certifications.
Measuring and Creating Awareness: Energy Demand and a Better Understanding of the Building Cycle
Cooling and Energy Efficiency: A New Era in Building Design
Educating governments, businesses, professionals, and society at large about the benefits of energy efficiency and its implications in the climate crisis is to recognize the essential role that the community plays in the success of sustainable and NetZero buildings. Paola Valencia, Sustainability Manager at E3 Ingeniería Consulting, with extensive professional experience of over 20 years in sustainable construction and energy efficiency for the public and private sectors in Chile, Peru, and Colombia, tells us that ‘the most relevant aspect is that the energy consumed in the operation of buildings accounts for more than 80% of the total life cycle of the building. Furthermore, it is known that 66% of that energy is primarily consumed in air conditioning.’ To anticipate the necessary energy, it is essential to have tools or systems capable of forecasting demand and energy consumption estimates.
At the same time, the world has experienced the warmest months ever recorded, and the outlook is not optimistic. The rising temperatures are creating an increased need for cooling, which could trigger a dangerous cycle of higher electricity consumption and carbon emissions. In a planet facing unprecedented urbanization and a simultaneous climate crisis, the importance of energy efficiency in buildings and cooling technologies is more critical than ever. Cooling and energy efficiency will usher in a new era in building design.
Regulatory Frameworks: Energy Labeling and Enhanced Public-Private Collaboration
While the path of energy labeling is advancing in countries like Argentina and Chile, governments in Latin America must progress in their laws and regulations that further incentivize the adoption of sustainable construction practices. In this regard, understanding the global context of these matters is a key point. Clara Camarasa, Energy Efficiency Policy Analyst at the International Energy Agency (IEA), presented a package of energy efficiency policies for buildings, emphasizing how ‘the construction and building sectors play a fundamental role in the fight against climate change, as they collectively account for 30% of the total global energy consumption and 27% of total CO2 emissions in the energy sector. Without specific policy measures, it is projected that energy consumption in buildings could increase by up to 70% by the year 2050.
Collaboration between the public and private sectors is crucial. Governments can partner with businesses to develop sustainable and NetZero building projects, which can accelerate the adoption of these practices. Financial incentives, such as subsidies, soft loans, or tax deductions, can encourage developers and property owners to choose more sustainable solutions in the region.
Developing the Industry: Timber Construction with Sustainable Management Practices
While the Tamango project by Tallwood Architects serves as an example of the challenges and opportunities in wood construction in Chile, potentially being the first 12-story building with a prefabricated wood structure in Latin America, in Peru, the Construye para Crecer project by Poggione+Biondi Arquitectos emerged as the winner of the XIX National Architecture Biennial 2022. This project involves a residential complex primarily constructed with wood, making it one of the tallest wood-built complexes in South America.
What is interesting is that it aims to address the issue of material use and energy efficiency in the country from two perspectives: on the one hand, confronting the forestry industry with sustainable management practices, and on the other hand, providing an option with a lower environmental impact on our planet, requiring minimal energy consumption with a very low impact on its life cycle. Here, it is essential to develop technical capacity in the construction industry. This includes not only training architects, engineers, and construction workers in the latest technologies and best practices for sustainable buildings but also promoting research and innovation in sustainable materials and construction methods.
Certifications and Standards: Implementation of Recognitions from Chile to Mexico
The certification of sustainable buildings is an important recognition mechanism. Recently, the Swiss certification for sustainable buildings, Minergie, made strides in Chile under the supervision of EBP Chile (the same entity implementing the CEELA project for COSUDE). The history of Minergie began in Switzerland in 1998 and has expanded considerably with over 50,000 certified buildings. Its goal is to integrate energy efficiency with reduced dependence on fossil fuels and to address a high comfort environment, maintaining these values over time. It also emphasizes the use of environmentally friendly materials like wood and efficient water usage.
In Chile, this translates into the training of Chilean professionals for this low-energy building standard, as evidenced by the recent certification granted to four projects. Among them is Casa Covarrubias Hernández in Lliu Lliu, Limache, designed by Murillo+Toro Arquitectos, and the Burgos Net Zero Building developed by Cristián Izquierdo in collaboration with Tecton Inmobiliaria.
At the other end of Latin America, this standard has also been in operation in Mexico since 2022. Among its projects with provisional certification is the ‘Proyecto VI’ – or ‘Casa Cascada’ – in Valle de Bravo by the architecture firm Locus; and ‘La Ventana,’ a set of 5 houses made from natural materials in Baja California Sur.
Integrated Design: Setting the Example and Inspiring
In summary, the combination of education, regulation, financial incentives, training, and technology is essential to address the challenges of climate change and ensure a more sustainable future in the region. However, urban and architectural planning must always consider sustainability from the outset – and successful examples and models play a key role here.
The ‘No Footprint House’ designed by A-01 (Oliver Schütte) is located in Ojochal, a small community on the edge of the vast rainforest that stretches along the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Given its humid tropical climate, the architecture of the building is designed to interact passively with its surroundings, harnessing natural ventilation and solar protection to regulate climatic conditions.