News Brief

Building Materials, Energy and the Environment: Towards Ecologically Sustainable Development

Building Materials, Energy and the Environment:

by Bill Lawson. Published by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, P.O. Box 3373, Manuka, ACT 2603, Australia; +61-6-273-1548, +61-6-273-1953 (fax). 135 pages, paperback, AUS$39.95 +$10 for overseas shipping.

This environmental overview of building materials is—quite appropriately—very specific to its Australian context. The building systems, wood species, and climatic considerations are all Australian. Nevertheless, the concepts and considerations are universal, and Lawson does an excellent job of presenting building material choices as a stepping stone to environmentally appropriate design.

Lawson starts out by describing the raw material and manufacturing stages for a range of common building materials. He also provides embodied energy data for the materials and gives each a rating from “poor” to “excellent” for seven criteria:

•Raw material availability;

•Minimal environmental impact;

•Embodied energy efficiency;

•Product lifespan;

•Freedom from maintenance;

•Potential for product reuse; and

• Material recyclability.

The next section applies the embodied energy data to representative building

assemblies, showing how different roof or wall systems, for example, compare. Lawson acknowledges that there is a risk of relying too heavily on embodied energy, given both the uncertainty in the data and the many other environmental considerations. He clearly relishes, however, the fact that it is possible to work with actual numbers for these systems, and he does a nice job showing how it’s done.

Gradually broadening his scope, Lawson then discusses design issues relating to use of materials: design for durability, for disassembly, and for ease of maintenance or replacement. Finally, he presents eleven case studies—primarily eco-resorts and houses—from various parts of Australia. While he discusses and rates these buildings on a range of environmental criteria, there is particular emphasis on their use of materials.

The writing style in

Building Materials is somewhat academic and stiff, and the ratings that are applied to both materials and projects are not well explained so they seem somewhat arbitrary. These are minor complaints, however, for an otherwise excellent text. The ideas and information are clear, intelligent, and

informative. Lawson has made a significant contribution to the literature of ecologically sensitive design.

Published April 1, 1997

(1997, April 1). Building Materials, Energy and the Environment: Towards Ecologically Sustainable Development. Retrieved from

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