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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.