News28 October 2020
Build better! The Material Pyramid is interactive
A new online tool offers an overview of the CO2impact of the materials of your construction project. CINARK at the Royal Danish Academy, School of Architecture and Vandkunsten have developed the interactive version of the Construction Material Pyramid.
The pyramid resembles the educational food pyramid which have taught generations to eat healthier – The material pyramid at Materialepyramiden.dk has the similar aim in terms of more climate healthy construction ‘diet’. Materialepyramiden.dk is designed for architects, contractors, building clients and others with the aim to discuss and improve the CO2 impact from construction.
”Using the Construction Material Pyramid gives you and understanding, almost playfully, of which materials that normally takes up which climate impact. This a tacit knowledge that would usually develop from undertaking numerous life cycle analyses (LCAs) says Jan S Kauschen, PhD and partner at Vandkunsten Architecs. Jan has developed and coded the digital tool which is now available at materialepyramiden.dk
“The idea for a digital version of the material pyramid came immediately when I first encountered the concept back in October 2019”, says Jan. “Life Cycle Analyses have several dimensions and I thought it important that users of the tool decide which data from EPD documents should be displayed. Especially the environmental impact measured in cubic metres m3 appears relevant. But furthermore, material ought to be seen with their “functional unit” in order for a more correct comparison according to the function of the materials.
The Digital Material Pyramid shows several improvements.
The current version of the Online Material Pyramid allows the user to change unit to display in environmental impact in kilograms as the original and analogue version of the Material Pyramid or as cubic metres, which is more relevant for practitioners.
Another improvement is the filter to sort materials according to environmental impact categories besides Global Warming Potential. Furthermore, you can choose between different “functional units”, such as the material capacity for insulation or loadbearing. This leads the way to more usable comparisons of materials according to their function in a building.
The online tool also has a small calculator to configure an Online Material Pyramid for a specific project.
The concept of the Material Pyramid was developed by architect Pelle Munch-Petersen during his industrial PhD project with Henning Larsen Architects and CINARK at the Royal Danish Academy, School of Architecture. The pyramid was first launched in the 2019 book Cirkulært Byggeri (Circular Construction) and later as a poster at the 2019 Building Green fair. Behind the project are senior and junior researchers at CINARK – Center of Industrial Architecture who have worked with green architecture and building practice for years.
“it is a tool to make us aware of the impact of our material choices here and now. The notion of the Material Pyramid is inspired by the educational Food Pyramid and it draws a simple picture of which materials we can use with no or little worry, and which we have to be very conscious about.” Say Pelle Munch-Petersen, PhD and assistant lecturer at CINARK, the Royal Academy.
Not an LCA tool
Jan S. Kauschen adds: ”it can be really difficult to communicate the traditional life cycle analyses (LCAs) even with many years of experience. It is a big challenge that only specialists understand and discuss the results – and in fact often discuss the methods. The Online Material Pyramid is not an LCA tool but it is based on the same data. It is visual and it’s flexible so one can display results in different units. This way one can pick and choose between the relevant categories of environmental impact and draw one’s own conclusions. Often you will be surprised of where materials are placed in the pyramid. This is a very good starting point for a discussion of materials and sustainability in construction” says Jan S Kauschen.
Architect PhD Pelle Munch-Petersen who coined the original Construction Material Pyramid hopes using it will eventually lead to more sustainable construction: “the Material Pyramid is full of essential questions: where do I go wrong? Which components in my project have a large footprint? How can I optimize the climate calculations? Are there materials that my project could do without? Could I use less? It is our intention with the Material Pyramid to make us conscious of the consequences of our material consumption in construction. Hopefully it will spark thoughts and discussions to result in more sustainable construction.”
The people behind the Online Material Pyramid hope that architects and others will use the tool in early phases of their projects.
“We are attempting with the Material Pyramid to create a consciousness that materials are not something to just be beautiful and manifest our concepts but more directly be the inception of our concepts and the entire way we conceive construction and architecture”, states Munch-Petersen.
The Online Material Pyramid is built on data from publicly available Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), for now only for the lifecycle phases A1-3. The team behind the pyramid is ready to add more layers and more materials in future versions and is open to all forms of collaborations that promotes sustainable construction.
The digital version of the Construction Material Pyramid is developed with the economic aid from Boligfonden Kuben.