EventsBuilding sector energy use: new directions, new priorities

Building sector energy use: new directions, new priorities

Michelle Addington

Yale University School of Architecture, New Haven, CT, USA

Event from
09 February
Photo from Michelle Addington



Moving forward and making significant strides in reducing the energy use by buildings will first require a reassessment of how buildings are evaluated in regard to energy consumption and efficiency. The lack of a clear cause and effect relationship between strategies and energy reduction has not slowed down the adoption of highly specific codes and recommendations for buildings, but it is reflected when one attempts to define the most effective measures. In developed countries, the highest priority measures have been, with few exceptions, dependent upon the specification of high performance systems and technologies of which many require additional investment and operational training. Most problematic is that many of the highest profile measures for buildings do not address actual energy consumption of buildings at all but rather are intended to encourage private investment in distributed energy generation. As such, much of the attention has been placed on cost-benefit analyses in regard to incentivizing investment.

One long-standing concern regarding energy use in developing and transitional countries is that as the trend toward the adaptation of the energy-intensive building practices and programs adopted from developed countries continues to expand, there will not be equivalent investment to enable the adoption of the “best” practices that are presumed to be necessary to curb the energy use of buildings. What should be of greater concern, however, is that the major cause of increasing energy use in buildings in developed countries – the increased size of buildings per capita and per function – is even more pronounced in developing and transitional countries. In the same thirty year time period that the average residential intensity (area per capita) increased two-fold in the United States, it increased eight-fold in China. 

Michelle Addington’s contention is that developed countries have over-privileged measures that provide marginal reductions in energy consumption without commensurate attention being placed on the most significant contributors to the continuing increase in energy use. Developed, transitional and developing countries all share the over-arching goal to identify the most strategic building design decisions, alterations and retrofits that will result in significant, yet cost-effective, emission reductions. By redefining objectives to address the larger contributors to energy increase, we may discover that the resulting priorities are ­common to countries at all levels of development. 

Michelle Addington

Michelle Addington has been Hines Professor of Sustainable Architectural Design at Yale University since 2006. In 2011, she was awarded the Sustainability Grant for Research in Intelligent Buildings. Prior to teaching at Yale, Michelle Addington taught at Harvard University for 10 years and before that at Temple University in Philadelphia. Her background includes work at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, where she developed structural data for composite materials and designed components for unmanned spacecraft. She then spent 10 years as a process design and power plant engineer, as well as working in quality assurance at DuPont.


After studying architecture, she became an architectural associate at a firm based in Philadelphia. Her research focuses on discrete systems and technology transfer. She advises a number of organisations, including the US Department of Energy and the American Institute of Architecture (AIA), on matters of energy and sustainability. Michelle Addington’s work has been published in a number of articles concerning science, architecture and the environment.