Sustainable architecture has emerged as a key factor in the creation and consideration of building design. By using resources in moderation and maximizing efficiency, it aims to lower the negative environmental aftermath of buildings and alleviate their long-term functionality. So, what is sustainable architecture? Sustainability – as defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development – satisfies the demands of today without jeopardizing the necessities of future generations. Coupled with architecture, it implies the creation of healthy living spaces that lessen environmental repercussions, energy usage, and human resources. A building’s material palette, construction techniques, resource usage, and overall design all constitute sustainable architecture. Also, the architecture must practice sustainability throughout its lifespan and demolition. While aesthetics play an important role in architecture, efficiency takes precedence when sustainability is involved.
Green architecture or environmental architecture are some other titles to refer to sustainable architecture. They urge architects to incorporate technological interventions, thus creating smart, efficient designs that have little to no negative impact on communities. When designing sustainable architecture, it is important to craft contextually conscious constructions. It encompasses several interconnected ideas, such as energy use, using eco-friendly materials, coherently conceptualizing with nature and encouraging end users to live sustainably. According to the United Nations Global Status Report of 2017, building and construction industries contribute over a quarter to global energy consumption and around forty percent to carbon dioxide emissions. Also, globally, they generate half of the waste in landfills, almost half of drinking water pollution, and a quarter of air pollution. While structures were previously built sustainably with locally obtained materials, modernization has increased the demands of the population and now requires a significant number of natural resources. However, nature is finite, the urban fabric halts for none. With growing demands, individuals and communities must migrate and adapt to purposeful notions of sustainability.
Strategic Sustainable Solutions
In recent years, there has been an increase in design studios that incorporate sustainability into their designs. However, to achieve maximum proficiency, individuals and building sectors – including architects and builders – need to refine their perspectives of sustainability and plan multifaceted strategies to reduce waste and increase efficiency. There exist several national and international standards that promote sustainable design approaches to architects, designers, and engineers and raise awareness regarding the environmental impacts of construction. Although there are no concrete green criteria, there are several common strategies suitable for variable circumstances. We will explore them here:
Optimizing waste management: Another method of approaching sustainable architecture is to motivate its occupants to generate as little waste as possible. A potential solution to lowering water usage is the use of grey water collection which reuses water from plant beds or kitchen sinks, or the use of on-site anaerobic composters and vacuum toilets.
Harmonizing with nature: Sustainable architecture is not just a reference to the building itself; it must also complement its context. This could include the incorporation of elements such as bioswales for rainwater recycling, living walls, and roof gardens that encourage pollination. A sustainable structure alleviates the environment around it and establishes a coherent microhabitat between architecture and nature.
Keeping up with energy-efficient advances: Sustainable architecture advocates the use of technology that minimizes energy consumption and waste production. Building efficiencies can be vetted through the use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) software and digital site inspection tools, substituting conventional types of equipment with smart solutions that consume lesser energy.
Promoting an exo-conscious lifestyle: Another aspect of sustainable architecture is to motivate people to reduce their carbon footprints. Small steps could include the replacement of parking spaces with bicycle parking, or collaborating with public transportation networks to create stops in close proximity to the architecture, thus lower individual carbon emissions.
Sustainable and renewable resources: Renewable sourcing of building materials is a key component of sustainable design. Timber is becoming an increasingly popular material selection in architecture. Other options include cement substitutes with low carbon footprints, recycled building materials, or even reusing of salvaged materials during demolition.
Energy production: “Electricity and heat are both cheaper and cause less ecological damage if you produce them as close as possible to the user” (O’Malley, 2020). Sustainable structures make efforts to utilize energy generated from rooftop solar panels, wind turbines, heat pumps, and other efficient alternatives.
Energy efficient construction strategies: This involves creating architecture that consumes minimum energy whilst providing feasible functionality. Design decisions may involve the use of proper insulating materials, triple glazing, minimizing or eliminating HVAC systems through the addition of awnings and cladding for cooling and shading, etc.
Sustainable architecture is an asset not just to the environment but also to the economy, communities, and people. However, the costs involved in ensuring sustainability are one of the primary concerns. Although the overall cost of sustainable construction is comparatively lower, there is a popular misconception that incorporating sustainability significantly escalates the building budget. When discussing emerging architectural projects, determining whether a building design is truly sustainable is a time-consuming procedure since multiple variables are involved; namely, materials, energy, resources, space planning, weather, and so on. In such scenarios, one can seek support from specialists in the field that possess the current expertise in design techniques and sustainable approaches.
Sustainability is a meticulous undertaking; it should ideally be practised throughout all design phases, and involving experts from the beginning can prove highly beneficial. To conclude with a statement from architect Bjarke Ingels that encapsulates the concept of sustainable building design, “Architecture is about trying to make the world a little more like our dreams”. With that in mind, what is better to ensure long-lasting realities and dreams than sustainable practices?
- Barker. (n.d.). What is Sustainable Architecture – Barker Associates. [online] Available at: https://www.barker-associates.co.uk/service/architecture/what-is-sustainable-architecture/.
- O’Malley, A. (2020). Sustainable architecture is here to stay. [online] PlanRadar. Available at: https://www.planradar.com/sustainable-architecture/.
- Wikipedia Contributors (2019). Sustainable architecture. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_architecture.