Sustainability is a word that has emerged to the forefront of all architectural discussions at present. According to the Cambridge dictionary, sustainability is defined as “the quality of causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore able to continue for a long time.” Broadly, this means creating a careful balance between human needs and the needs of the ecosystem. In buildings, the core concepts of sustainability revolve around judicious use of resources, and a good building life cycle. As buildings grow in scale, the technicalities associated with sustainability and green design can get increasingly complex. However, the central ideas of sustainable design are simple. It can be applied to architecture at any scale, irrespective of the function. The key is to design a building that is site-specific and remains rooted in its context. Our role, as architects, is to also design a self-sustaining micro-ecosystem, containing the building on-site, as a part of the larger ecosystem on the planet. Here are a few simple sustainable strategies that can be incorporated into building design.

1. Practice Restraint. Build only what is necessary. 

This concept comes into play mostly in renovation projects. As architects, we are all waiting to unleash our creativity on a blank canvas. However, it is important to practice restraint and make sure that we build responsibly. Retaining structure(wherever possible) and reusing materials is a great way to start thinking about sustainable design. This ensures that there is a reduction in resource consumption as a whole. Striking a balance between longevity of building components(life cycle) and re-use of the existing is imperative. 

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Renovation of Captain’s House by Vector Architects ©Archdaily.
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Renovation of Captain’s House by Vector Architects ©Archdaily.

2. Building Orientation – Design to Reduce Consumption.

The geographical location of the site and its climatic zone is a critical factor to consider while proposing sustainable interventions. The requirements of each climatic zone for thermal comfort are different, and responding to local concerns is important. For example, orienting the building correctly on site is a simple, yet effective way, to ensure proper daylighting. This reduces the lighting load on the building during the day. Similarly, natural ventilation can be used to substitute mechanical ventilation in most places, almost throughout the year, if the building is oriented properly.

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Kimbell Art Museum by Louis Kahn brings in daylight to a museum ©www.kimbellart.org

3. Thermal Insulation

The thermal insulation of a building is essential. This prevents the entry of outside conditions into the interior, thus reducing the energy load on the ventilation systems within the building. Using good quality insulating windows, and ensuring that there is no thermal bridging in the building structure are some steps that can be implemented.

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Strategies to Prevent Thermal Bridging ©www.constructionspecifier.com

4. Use of Renewable Sources of Energy 

Renewable sources such as solar and geothermal can be used to generate energy for consumption on site. Solar panels can be installed for solar electric systems, as well as hot water systems. 

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Solar Facade – Green Dot Animo Leadership High School by Brooks+Scarpa Architects ©Archdaily

5. Use of Energy-Efficient Systems.

Energy-efficient systems should be used to supplement the passive systems of heating, ventilation, cooling, water management, etc. Some examples of this are the heat/energy recovery ventilation system and low flow taps. Integrating these systems into the design of the building can require experts to be roped in the early stage of design, to ensure maximum efficiency.

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Heat Recovery Ventilation System  ©www.bpcventilation.com

6. Use of Local Materials and craftsmanship, Materials with low embodied energy. 

Using local materials reduces the energy consumed in their transportation to the site. Traditional building materials can be substituted with alternatives that have low embodied energy. Materials should be selected taking into consideration various factors such as embodied energy, life cycle, and health implications.  

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Lycee Schorge Secondary School by Francis Kere in Burkina Faso uses laterite and local fast-growing wood. ©Dezeen. Image Credit:Iwan Baan.

7. Rain Water Harvesting

Harvested rainwater in a building can be used for non-potable purposes in the building. Setting up a rainwater harvesting system is fairly simple, and is now mandatory to have as per building code in most places. 

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Rio 2016 Olympic Golf Course by Rua Arquitetos has a canopy that collects rainwater to irrigate the golf course ©Dezeen.

8. Provide provisions for gardens and green spaces 

This is a step towards creating communities that grow their food, in turn encouraging people to be conscious about their carbon footprint. These spaces can be incorporated into design even in the smallest of spaces. The urban gardens, or farms, have the added benefit of providing respite from the concrete and glass jungles of urban cities, and stress reduction.

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Planter Box House, by Formzero. ©Archdaily.

9. Manage Material Waste Generation and Recycling

A lot of waste is generated as a result of building construction. Waste generation can be reduced by the proper planning of material use, preventing the waste of material. Recycled or reclaimed material can be used in construction. 

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Circular Pavilion by Encore Heureux in Paris uses reclaimed doors and recycled insulation. Image Credit: Cyrille Weiner ©Dezeen

10. Waste Management Systems

Design waste management systems that manage the waste that is generated by the occupants of the building. Organic waste can be composted on-site, which can feed into green spaces as compost. Recycled greywater can be used in certain places, such as for flushing in bathrooms.

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Composting Shed by Groves-Raines Architects in Edinburgh.  ©Dezeen

11. Life Cycle of the Building

The life cycle of the building needs to be considered, along with the life cycles of the components. It is also important to consider the initial investment of resources in using a material of higher quality, as opposed to the replacement implication on resources in using materials of lower quality and life cycle. 

12. Responsible Sourcing

It is important to source materials from manufacturers who are environmentally responsible for production. This involves a significant amount of research, into material spec sheets, company policies, etc. 

13. Awareness of Materials and Innovations

Remaining updated about new materials, and inventive ways of using existing materials are important. There is a worldwide emphasis on sustainability, leading to serious research. Awareness of these innovations can help in the application of the same into projects. 

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SaltyCo Sustainable Fabrics by Students from RCA, London are fabrics made from plants grown in sea-water. ©Dezeen

14. Flexibility of Use

The building can be designed to provide a certain degree of flexibility in its use. A degree of control of factors such as daylight, ventilation, etc. should be provided to the occupants of the building. Alternatively, it also suggests that the building can adapt to being used in a way that is not its original intended use, which is the recyclability factor of the building itself. 

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MU50 House by Teke Architect’s Office, Image Credit: Altkat Architectural Photography.  ©Archdaily.

15. Intervention at Various Scales

Consider the impact of the building and its function beyond the boundary of the site. Apart from the environmental implications, the site is a part of a larger ecosystem and a community. Understanding the role of the building in this community and looking at the macro-scale helps to design systems within the building that can support and feed into the existing systems. 

References :

Anashwara Mandalay
Author

Anashwara Mandalay is an Architect, currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Interior Design. She believes that the true success of design lies in creative solutions to everyday problems, which drives her interest in minimalism and sustainable design practices. While her work encompasses graphics, product, interior, and architectural design, she is drawn to academia and journalism. She finds inspiration in the most unexpected places - her inclination towards travel, film, visual art and photography play a leading role in her work as a multi-faceted designer.

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