The Life of a Building

Buildings tend to look like they've always been where they are. They appear static, solid, and stuck in one place. But buildings and the parts they are made of do not stay in one place and in fact take journeys across many places and phases, much like living things.

The ingredients of buildings are born in nature - natural resources which humans extract. We extract them with massive machines that tear apart the earth in order to have the basic building blocks of our industrial society – iron, concrete, and fossil fuels. That extraction process causes over 80 percent of man-made environmental damages. These materials are then manufactured into their useful form by consuming more resources taken from nature, and often emitting waste and harmful elements back into nature. Many professionals are involved in this phase (factory workers, designers, architects, builders, developers, engineers) until finally, these materials are made into products, which are assembled into buildings, which are ready for occupants to use. The day the building starts to be used is also the day that the building begins to degrade and depreciate.

It is helpful to understand that buildings have lives because we can then address the unique opportunities and challenges that come with each building life phase. This understanding helps us see that the beginning of a building’s life is really when it has the most harm to the environment and its use-phase of life is when it has the strongest relationship to people. It also helps us to see that the designers and engineers have the power to improve these phases and influence how materials will impact the occupants. All of this life cycle thinking, as it is commonly known, can improve the impact on both the environment and the people.

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