Destruction of old house by excavator. Bucket of excavator breaks concrete structure. DedMityay/Adobe Stock

“Finishing ends construction, weathering constructs finishes.” The opening statement in On Weathering: The Life of Buildings in Time (MIT Press, 1993) by Mohsen Mostafavi and David Leatherbarrow addresses the inevitability of decay and mortality in buildings. “This assertion would seem to defy one of the most ancient commonplaces of architecture: buildings persist in time. Yet they do not,” they write.

Deterioration represents not only a material change but also an associated carbon cost. Discussions of embodied carbon in buildings today focus on the early stages of the material life cycle. The CO2 emissions generated by raw material harvesting, product manufacture, and construction indicate the initial carbon footprint associated with a new building. And yet, embodied carbon connects to a building’s entire life cycle—including its maintenance and end of life. In other words, we must account for the emissions that result from renovation and deconstruction just as we do for manufacture and construction.

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