What Is the Environmental Impact of Each Building Material?

The Construction Material Pyramid. Image © Centre for Industrialised Architecture (CINARK) from Royal Danish Academy

Food pyramids are familiar to all of us. They are visual guides that show us the proportions of foods that we should supposedly eat on a daily basis, in order to stay healthy. Composed of a series of layers with different food types–such as grains, flour, fats, vegetables, and others–, at the base are the foods that should be consumed in larger quantities. Towards the top, each layer becomes successively smaller, indicating the foods that are meant to be ingested rarely. The pyramid can vary according to countries and cultures, but its main purpose is always to provide a guide for a balanced life. There are no prohibitions, but it does indicate some foods that should be consumed with caution because of their impacts on our health.

If we are what we eat, is it possible to also replicate this in the construction industry and our buildings? Using this same easy to understand visual language, the Royal Danish Academy Center for Industrialized Architecture (Cinark) developed the Construction Material Pyramid. The idea was to highlight the environmental impact of the most used construction materials, focusing on the analysis of the first three life phases: extraction of raw materials, transportation and manufacturing.

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