Sustainability with Dr Ana Rute Costa

Dr Ana Rute Costa

In the lead-up to COP27 in November, and with the imperative climate emergency, we thought we would speak to some of the talented minds at Lancaster about their areas of research within sustainability, and what they would like to see focused on in this wide-reaching topic.

This week, we have spoken to Dr Ana Rute Costa, course leader for the BA (Hons) Architecture course, a brand-new degree at Lancaster University with the first cohort of students graduating in 2022/23.

What areas of sustainability are you currently focused on in your work?

From a teaching perspective, the School of Architecture focuses on sustainability in all the areas of the curriculum. We have eight key concerns underpinning everything we do and these can be strongly related to sustainability: Future practice and sustainable futures, Research that tackles sustainable topics; Radical creativity and sustainable approaches; Ethics and sustainable behaviour; Digital crafts and sustainable practices; People and sustainable ways of living; Place and sustainable local practices and materials; Climate Emergency and the obvious relationship with sustainability practices and ways of addressing a net zero future.

These are delivered through four main subjects connected to sustainability: Architectural Design, Architectural Humanities, Architectural Technology and Professional Practices. We empower students to design sustainable buildings that: Acknowledge the characteristics of the place, local materials and practices; Propose retrofit solutions (consider the embodied carbon of existing buildings) and search for innovative solutions that allow adaptive re-use, dismantling and re-use of building components to extend life-cycle of buildings and building materials.

As a researcher, I am developing two key projects related to sustainability.

I have illustrated a picture book about raising awareness for the impacts of climate change and increasing extreme weather events, on house design and the importance of low-carbon retrofits. This book aims to educate children and parents on how the architecture of their homes connects with climate change and sustainable ways of living.

Parallel to this, I’m preparing a toolkit to Co-Design Outdoor Learning Environments for more sustainable living. These activities will cover the current KS0/KS1/KS2 curriculum for Design Technology, Geography and Maths and help us to raise the importance of Outdoor Learning Environments for a more sustainable living among young people and highlight the value of architecture in shaping these. This toolkit is to be shared widely across UK primary schools.

I have also submitted a research funding application about accelerating material reuse in construction and integrating re-used materials into the supply chain by using material passports. In this project, I am expecting to support the work developed by the Accelerating Material Re-Use Group and produce a policy paper on how to accelerate material reuse in construction.

What has been your biggest achievement this year?

In terms of sustainability, I have organised the two first editions of the TEA Talks, a series of informal talks from the School of Architecture on the theme of Technology, the Environment, and the role of Architecture, now and in the future. The TEA talks are a way to connect Academia, Research and Practice and engage with the wider society. The first event was delivered in October 2021 and the Architecture Staff members presented the eight key concerns underpinning everything we do at Lancaster School of Architecture. The second was delivered in March and all the presentations tackle Sustainability issues. The next event about Urban Futures will take place on the 28th of October 2022 at Nuffield Theatre and will inevitable cover sustainability aspects of urban interventions. The talks are followed by a tea discussion where the audience has the opportunity to ask questions (everyone is welcome!). The videos are professionally edited and create a digital repository with a high-quality outcome, reaching a broader audience. The TEA talks were praised by RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Visiting Board and External Examiners of the BA(Hons)Architecture as an excellent vehicle to connect research with teaching and engage with the community.

The videos from the previous TEA talks editions can be watched here:

What do you think is the biggest challenge in the work that you do?

The biggest challenge is probably keep updated with all the information and knowledge that is being produced and shared during the last few years. The work done by Architects Declare, ACAN (Architects Climate Action Network), LETI (The London Energy Transformation Initiative), RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) and their Sustainable Outcomes Guide, UIA (International Union of Architects) Sustainable Development Goals Commission, Climate Champions Podcast from Architects Journals and an extensive list of individual contributions and publications give us the best resources to tackle climate emergency and address sustainable practices.

Did you always want to work in the area of sustainability?

I have been always interested in sustainability, as an architect, right after finishing my degree, I remember looking at Green Vitruvius book, a book that addresses passive design solutions in architecture and using it as a guide for sustainable designs. As a researcher and educator, I try to embed sustainability across all the areas of the curriculum. Architects have the social responsibility to design sustainable futures. I’m currently doing the passive house designer course to keep my practice, teaching and research updated and use the right tools to design net zero buildings.

COP27 is in November 2022 in Egypt, what area(s) would you like to see being talked about more in order to help the climate emergency?

On one hand, I think we should establish a retrofit policy that defines how can we best upgrade the existing building stock and met the net zero targets stipulated by the governments. On the other hand, we should privilege sustainable building materials according to local characteristics and crafts and make the necessary policy adjustments to use these.

What do you think is the role of Universities in sustainability and addressing the climate emergency?

Leading by example, makings decisions based on research outcomes, supporting best sustainable practices across all areas of activity (e.g. Estates, Catering, Accommodation, Teaching, Research, Engagement, Social Activities) and implementing sustainable ways of living.

To find out more about Lancaster University's work in this area, explore our sustainability pages.

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