Sustainability in Architectural Design
We all know what sustainability is – the need to move away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy sources, increase provision for recycling and other steps to reduce our carbon footprint. The reasons for this are numerous, but essentially everything about sustainability concerns mitigating the effects of climate change for a healthier future for the planet and the people that will live in it.
In architecture, many of the same ideas apply: We desire to maximize efficiency of materials in the design process while making effective use of physical space. We also need to minimize the potential carbon footprint, to increase the use of recyclable materials and reduce substances going into landfill during construction. Finally, to make the buildings of today fully “recyclable” when they are eventually demolished, and that any design or construction decisions we make today do not impact future generations.
Sustainability in Architecture
Businesses and families looking to purchase new property understand that sustainability means cost savings – specifically for reduced utility bills through better insulation, temperature regulation and water management. To stay competitive, architects and construction businesses must keep up with advances in green technology to keep their building designs competitive in the marketplace.
Careful Building Placement
One overlooked aspect of sustainable architecture is where to put individual buildings and how each zone should be put together to relieve pressure on utilities and infrastructure (traffic network, businesses and other amenities). It used to be that modern cities were designed in commercial, industrial and residential zones and kept separate. Sustainability today suggests that breaking up these elements would be easier on a city’s infrastructure and for the environment. An individual building is not an isolated element; it affects and is affected by the buildings around it so careful consideration of placement should be a major consideration for each building within an area and for the area.
To Reduce Waste Consumption
The construction industry can be very wasteful – especially in the process of mining for raw materials and the process of converting that raw material into a usable product (such as steel girders) for erecting a new building or development. Transportation costs of getting the raw materials to the site, the carbon emissions used by site equipment, the demolition of any buildings that may have been on the site previously would have had a carbon footprint of its own and will produce waste products. If we constructed buildings with as much recyclable product as possible, this would go some way to reducing our carbon footprint and allow us to reuse this material in the new design or for something else.
To Reduce Toxic Materials
Similar to reducing non-recyclables, we have an obligation to eliminate the use of toxic materials as much as possible. At present, there are regulations on the proper disposal of such materials, but no matter how it is disposed, it is damaging to the environment wherever it ends up. If we can design buildings with the possible elimination of toxic materials in mind (as with the elimination of asbestos in many countries but not the US and Canada) then it is good for the industry and good for the planet. There are many buildings in the developing and developed world using these materials and safe handling by our industry is vital.
For Continuing Design Improvement and Innovation
Architecture is an applied science; each year brings new materials and innovations, new ways of working and methods of building as we seek to address issues of increasing population, pressure on resources and an obligation to preserve natural spaces and prime agricultural lands. We will need to build upwards rather than outwards and this will mean developing stronger, more durable materials with which to build. Understanding existing limits of building design and attempting to improve them in line with public need and legislation is an ongoing issue to the construction industry – particularly in the design phase.
Reduce Utility Waste & Energy Generation
Heating, lighting and air conditioning use electricity generated by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. Large buildings can be a big drain on these resources, which is why climate change mitigation and carbon emission reduction is looking to our industry to incorporate modern energy generation and utility waste techniques. Some of these include solar paneling to generate heat, green shading (or natural shading) to replace air conditioning, designing the building to reduce heat in summer and maximize it in winter, lighting with motion sensors and devices that reduce the amount of water through a supply network. When we look at the city of Masdar in the UAE as an example, we see what can be achieved in a very hot, dry environment – narrow streets, natural under-city cooling, shading and solar paneling means that the city is carbon neutral – without the use of electricity draining methods.
The Aim of Sustainability in Architecture
Ultimately, sustainability design in architecture is important to helping us reduce carbon emissions, specifically our reliance on fossil fuels, to save people money as businesses and individuals now look for energy efficiency for financial reasons primarily. There is also a need to create an industry that is forward thinking in utilizing recyclable materials, and in using the natural landscape and resources around us to create more sustainable buildings, towns and cities.