These buildings, either on purpose or by accident, were designed to last. It’s an increasingly relevant concept. The construction and operation of buildings is responsible for a worrying amount of carbon dioxide emissions. The embodied carbon that results from the production of building materials and construction adds up to an estimated 11% of all global carbon emissions. According to a new book on long-lived buildings, designing buildings to stay standing much longer—and survive the various twists and turns that come with these longer lifespans—is a new imperative for architects.
“Buildings are an enormous investment of energy, material, human capital, and money,” says David Fannon, a professor of architecture at Northeastern University and coauthor of The Architecture of Persistence: Designing for Future Use. “We pour all these resources into making them. It seems like it would be good if those things served their purpose for as long as possible.”
Cowritten with fellow Northeastern University architecture professors Michelle Laboy and Peter Wiederspahn, the book profiles buildings across history that have managed to stay in use, even as the needs of their users have changed. There’s the grain market turned museum, the church horse stables turned residences, even the parking garage that can one day become a space for humans instead of cars. These structures all share common design approaches that make them more easily adaptable over time. As the book explains, there are three main ways buildings can be designed from the start to have such long-lasting relevance: being designed with materials that will help them stand strong over time, being capable of hosting uses beyond their original intent, and being designed with the future in mind.