Good architecture lets nature in.- Mario Pei.
Sustainability. The world is talking about sustainability, some as a sincere concern while some blend flow alongside the trend. Either way, sustainability has gained more limelight since climate talks have floated around. As the air around us is getting worse every passing day, disasters have been hitting us in the cruelest possible ways. And the existing architecture needs to be more considerate. Be it towards nature, be it towards humanity. Sustainability is one of the most exploited words, especially in the architectural fraternity.
So what exactly is sustainable architecture? The quote by Mario Pei forms the basis of this. Sustainability talks a lot about being kinder to nature. Sustainable architecture is designing buildings that give back to the planet directly or indirectly. The use of green materials, minimizing the use of pollutants, reducing greenhouse gasses, etc., makes a building sustainable. Getting out of this nutshell, sustainability has more depth to it than what is being commercialized around in the modern world. Sustainability is not just a result; it is a process that benefits not just the planet but the people living on it as well. Helping people in terms of comfort and profit is an evident mark of sustainability.
Architects play a significant role in designing such buildings. As an aspiring architect, designing buildings that are gentle on nature should not just be our choice but our duty—a duty human beings were born with. As long as we take resources from nature, we should be thankful and handing kindness back to Mother Earth, if not anything materialistic. Architects have raised concerns about the worsening state of this planet, and sustainable architectural solutions have been a breakthrough in this process while architects have been taking the spot as the catalyst in implementing these solutions.
Since the 90s, the awareness around climate change and its heinous effects on the planet has been radically disseminated across the public. The epicenter of all this was the well-known energy crisis of 1970. This occurred when the West experienced an alarming shortage of fuel and a hike in prices. Innumerable groups vocalizing the scars of the planet emerged across the globe. This swept the world with a new lens to look at buildings. A green lens. A lens that treats buildings as something living, something breathing. Following this, the word sustainability has had growing depths to it. Sustainable architecture has come a long way from defining it as just climate responsiveness to talking about comfort, eco-friendly spaces, and carbon footprint.
What role do architects play here?
Architects, as generally and widely known, design habitable spaces. We have impacted the industrialization and evolution of the whole world; it’s only now that we are being recognized across the globe. An architect’s role in designing sustainable structures has been growing more vital than ever. Architects get to every detail, from creating shades to choosing the appropriate material for the system. As a result of constant study and research, strategies to build net zero buildings have evolved. Net zero structures primarily produce as much energy on-site as it consumes in a year. The continuous evolution of net zero technology has given us new and advanced strategies to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses, especially during the construction phase. While humanity is the sole reason behind global warming, architects have reassessed the building materials and strategies. Soon, reducing carbon emissions won’t be enough. The situation will start demanding the active removal of pollutants from the atmosphere, and architects and researchers have been trying to achieve it. SOM, an architectural firm based in the US, has proposed a housing prototype where individual building blocks act as trees, absorb carbon and pollutants from the air, and purify it. Numerous such technologies can be seen around us in no time, considering our developing pace.
We have always been discussing development of sustainable technologies and strategies to have greener buildings around us shortly. However, can these indeed undo the damage we have already caused? Mend the scars that our wars have left behind? Hand back what has already been snatched away. We humans have exploited the planet for hundreds of years now. We have exhausted it to the extent that it has nothing to lose anymore. When someone has nothing to lose, they attack without a hint of fear. Isn’t that what is happening with us now? Nature is giving back to us. Giving back mercilessly. Climate change, landslides, tsunamis, and floods, are what we are getting in return for hurting the planet to the point that it has nothing else to offer. We, architects alongside climate change activists, can be the last string of hope humanity can hang on to while the world is destroying itself. We can make the world a better place by leaving fewer scars on the planet.