Design Architecture On World Soil Day, a Look at How We Should Be Growing Buildings By Lloyd Alter Design Editor University of Toronto Lloyd Alter is Design Editor for Treehugger and teaches Sustainable Design at Ryerson University in Toronto. our editorial process Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Lloyd Alter Updated December 05, 2019 Share Twitter Pinterest Email Design Tiny Homes Architecture Interior Design Green Design Urban Design The future of green building depends on what comes out of our soil. TreeHugger Melissa tells us that it is World Soil Day, and quotes the Soil Science Society of America: Soil provides ecosystem services critical for life: soil acts as a water filter and a growing medium; provides habitat for billions of organisms, contributing to biodiversity; and supplies most of the antibiotics used to fight diseases. Humans use soil as a holding facility for solid waste, filter for wastewater, and foundation for our cities and towns. Finally, soil is the basis of our nation’s agroecosystems which provide us with feed, fiber, food and fuel. But they miss an important function of soil: it is the foundation of the factories that are the future of green building, the plants that make the materials we should be using if we are going to minimize our upfront carbon emissions. Why we should be building out of sunshine ©. Architype/ A low-carbon diet for green building © Architype/ A low-carbon diet for green building That is what building out of wood and natural materials essentially is: Carbon, water and sunlight. A quote from Bruce King's new book, The New Carbon Architecture: We can structure any architectural style with wood, we can insulate with straw and mushrooms... All of these emerging technologies and more arrive in tandem with the growing understanding that the so-called embodied carbon of building materials matters a great deal more than anyone thought in the fight to halt and reverse climate change. The built environment can switch from being a problem to a solution. More in TreeHugger What happens when you plan or design with Upfront Carbon Emissions in mind? credit: Waugh Thistleton Architects/ Photo Daniel Shearing © Waugh Thistleton Architects/ Photo Daniel ShearingYou do a lot of things differently from the way we do them today, and rethink everything from Tulips to Teslas.You would replace concrete and steel with materials with far lower Upfront Carbon Emissions wherever possible. That means using a lot more wood and not building so tall. Wood works best at medium densities; higher buildings tend to become hybrids with more concrete and steel. More in TreeHugger Can Cross-Laminated Timber save the world? ©. Waugh Thistleton Architects © Waugh Thistleton ArchitectsAnthony Thistleton makes a persuasive case in a new book, '100 Projects UK CLT'. He writes: The more we build using CLT, the more carbon we can store and we create a market for timber that will drive re-forestation. Planting more trees is one of the only realistic ways we have of reducing CO2 levels and it will only happen at scale if it is driven by demand. This is a critical time in the fight against irreversible climate change – the widespread adoption and growth of CLT quite literally has the potential to save the planet. More in TreeHugger. Is cork the perfect green building material? ©. Ricky Jones via RIBA © Ricky Jones via RIBAIt's all natural, renewable, healthy and has zero embodied carbon. What's not to love? In so many ways this is really the perfect insulation, the perfect building material. It lasts forever; this pile of cork is recycled from a 50-year-old industrial cooler. It is totally natural and has an embodied carbon of almost zero. It is healthy, free of flame retardants. It is sound-absorbing, antibacterial and easy to install. We need to build and rebuild millions of housing units, but we need to do it in a way that doesn't cause a big carbon burp from concrete and plastics. We need healthy materials that don't cost the earth. That means using more wood and more natural materials like cork. It means being willing to pay a premium for materials with all these benefits. More in TreeHugger. Reduce embodied carbon with hemp insulation batts from NatureFibres CC BY 2.0. Naturfibre hemp insulation/ Lloyd Alter Naturfibre hemp insulation/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0They should rename the town of Asbestos after this stuff. The world is changing; we have to rapidly change the way we build and convert to regenerative materials that store carbon. Hemp insulation is one of those materials. More in TreeHugger. United Nations/Public Domain There is much more of course, from mushroom insulation to cellulose to straw bale. We have even shown bark shingles. They are all made from plants that grow in soil. It is truly our future, and that is worth thinking about on World Soil Day.