With the depleting natural resources, changes in the climatic patterns on earth, global warming, and several other visible adverse impacts on the environment, turning towards ‘sustainable’ living has become the need of the hour. 

“Sustainable Development is the masterful balance of meeting our needs today without jeopardizing future generations’ ability to do the same.”

The term sustainability has been a go-to word for many architects and designers in the past few decades. Many ideas and concepts are described and sold with sustainability as the base. With the depleting natural resources, changes in the climatic patterns on earth, global warming, and several other visible adverse impacts on the environment, turning towards ‘sustainable’ living has become the need of the hour. 

Once sustainability meant ‘to be able to maintain at a certain level’, today its definition is an inclusive scenario encompassing the environmental, social, and economic solutions for a balanced society. For any type of industry to expand; architecture, development, and real estate become important because they rely on the spaces created and offered by these entities for their growth. The evidence of the dominance of the construction industry is visible and prominent. Therefore, it becomes the most decisive initiator for sustainable living and lifestyle. 

It was in the early 1980s that the concern for the construction industry’s impact on the environment started being raised. Along with the analysis of socio-cultural and humane aspects of the city and urban development which was being questioned by the urban theorists at one end, the concerns for environmental, social, and economic sustenance were being raised by another large group of people. According to the US Green Building Council (USGBC), the construction industry accounts for 40% of worldwide energy usage. Today the construction industry is a major job creator and accounts for 6% of total GDP but also produces 11% greenhouse gas emissions. With so many organizations and environmental activists working towards more eco-friendlier lifestyles and systems, the pressure on the construction industry to create sustainable solutions is also increasing exponentially. 

“Sustainable architecture is the use of design strategies that reduce the negative environmental impact of a built environment.”

The priority is to bring about an evolution in technology and materials of construction to reduce waste, energy, and other inefficiencies on the site during and even after construction. This can be one of the most challenging tasks. 

What is how sustainability can be introduced as a practice in the construction realm?

Material 

To improve sustainability in construction, the choice of materials becomes extremely important. There are several ways in which this can be done. Select materials from local sources. Select recyclable materials or long-lasting materials during the design process. Off-site fabrication of materials is beneficial for economic sustainability. Options should be created so that the material can be returned to their natural cycle (nature – site – nature).

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Straw Bale – Studio pavilion (Source: ©https://inhabitat.com/)
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Hempcrete – concrete-like material from Hemp plant (Source: ©https://inhabitat.com/)
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Bamboo Construction – Luum Temple in Tulum, Mexico. (Source: ©https://www.autodesk.com

Green building certification

Green building certification is currently voluntary and only 0.23% of overall construction opts for certification. If certification for some basic minimum standards becomes a part of the policy in the city, it can help to create a wider acceptance.

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Green Building Certification (Source: ©https://www.cyclone.energy

Emphasis on Energy Efficient Architecture

Using technology to regenerate energy efficiency in the building is an important tool that can be used. Architects along with engineers, scientists, and environmentalists are evolving interesting methods of making buildings self-sufficient. Inclusion of solar, wind, and other natural power collectors, generators, and storage within the designs. Nature responsive technologies are being experimented to become a part of the building ecology. Lowest possible energy consumption of the building.

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Powerhouse Brattørkaia, Norway (Source: ©https://snohetta.com/)
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Stanford’s Central Energy Facility (Source: ©https://www.architectmagazine.com/)
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Kinetic architecture for energy efficiency (Source: NextOffice)

Minimizing the Waste

Prevention is better than cure. About 1/3rd of all waste in landfills is from construction waste. Targeting to build for ‘Lower environmental impact’, use of renewable sources and materials can help reduce the debris or wastage. Construction of waste management systems within the design proposal can also help reduce the wastage produced by the project and its stakeholders in the long run. 

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Construction landfill debris (Source: https://www.rmit.edu.au)

Designing for MULTI-PURPOSE or RE-PURPOSE 

An interesting way in which construction can become sustainable is if the same project can give multiple usages to various stakeholders. Multi-purpose usage, reuse of buildings & materials, design for more flexibility, and adaptive usages are methods that can be propagated within the community for mutual benefits of the human and environmental lifestyle. 

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Coal DropsYard by Heatherwick Studio, London (Source: ©https://thespaces.com
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Copenhill Ski slope over Power Plant, Copenhagen (Source: ©https://big.dk)

Create Awareness About Responsibility

Economy, Society, Environment = Profit, People, Planet.

Community and people are a driving force for any lifestyle conversion. If the stakeholders are made aware of the importance and need for sustainable lifestyles and their impact on not only the social and environmental issues but also the economic and personal welfare, the market demands for sustainable outputs increases. This, in turn, leads to an aware, vital, and responsive demand-supply chain. 

An excellent example of this is the city of Copenhagen. Both the residents and the authorities are striving to evolve as the Cycle Capital of The World. 

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Cycle city, Copenhagen, Denmark (Source: ©http://www.cityclock.org/)
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Closing Times Square – Spaces created by the People (Source: ©Jan Gehl)

Experimentation is Key

Sustainable construction gives a huge opportunity for experimentation in the field of research. Many new materials and their characteristics are being researched upon in several research labs, including MIT, in the quest to provide sustainable, eco-friendly, and economic solutions to construction. These are interesting times because we have fast progressing technology which can lead to innovative solutions to benefit us in this community pursuit for better and quality life in the future. All we need to do is to be accepted to the various options available to us. 

Author

An Architecture graduate with a postgraduation in Urban Design and an Educationist by profession. She is on a constant quest for knowledge be it through reading, travel, people, experiences or even just by observing life go by. She believes words are powerful and beautiful and can help heal the world.

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