Sustainability in architecture addresses the negative environmental and social impacts of buildings by utilizing design methods, materials, energy and development spaces that aren’t detrimental to the surrounding ecosystem or communities. The philosophy is to ensure that the actions taken today don’t have negative consequences for future generations and comply with the principles of social, economic and ecological sustainability.
First and foremost, sustainability in architecture needs to take into account the natural resources and conditions at the site, incorporating these into the design wherever feasible. It also means utilizing materials that minimize the structure’s environmental footprint, whether that be due to energy-intensive manufacturing processes or long transport distances. Sustainable architects and builders should also consider employing systems into the design that harness waste and reuse it in as efficient a manner as possible.
How to Achieve Sustainability in Architecture
Sustainability in architecture begins with research. The first step is to carry out an inspection of the site to determine the natural conditions and constraints that should be taken into account. This is also the time to check on local authority regulations and requirements or meet with relevant persons to discuss your particular project.
If you’re building within or for a community, it’s important that you chat with locals to get their input and feedback. Perhaps there are cultural or religious considerations you haven’t addressed or they may have a better understanding of the natural environment. This is particularly important if you are building within a community that is not your own, ensuring that locals approve and feel included in the project, rather than imposing it on them.
The next stage is to sketch drawings to explain your proposed design, including preliminary material selections and finishes. These can then be expanded into more detailed designs, including constructional systems and materials as they adhere to the project budget and site constraints. A computer generated 3D model can help to visualize the structure, including “fly throughs” from above.
At this stage there will probably be some alterations regarding various design elements that need to be tweaked before your architect can prepare the requisite drawings and schedules. It’s at this stage that your building planner will coordinate the design work with other consultants to ensure they understand the sustainable intent of the architecture. Or it may be you that is taking on this role of being responsible for the project management, its contractors and material suppliers.
You will also need to prepare any necessary documents for planning applications if required by authorities. Plans, elevation and sections, as well as details and schedules will all need to be prepared and approved by the authorities before you can call tenders for the works.
Energy Efficiency in Sustainable Architecture
One of the most important goals in achieving sustainability in architecture is energy efficiency over the lifetime of a building. This means implementing both passive and active techniques to reduce the building’s energy needs and enhance their ability to capture or even generate their own energy. The possibilities of exploiting local environmental resources is one of the critical things to consider when carrying out initial site inspections.
Proper building placement is vital in minimizing its energy consumption, creating a design that works with its natural surroundings, rather than against them. The orientation of a building and its windows or the size of its rooms are all examples of passive architectural strategies to ensure energy efficiency. A well-insulated building will require less heat generating or dissipating power, provided it has the capacity to ventilate and expel polluted indoor air.
Solar panels can be added to the roof to generate electricity for the home, with roofs often angled toward the sun to enable photovoltaic panels to capture energy efficiently. Solar water heaters are a cost-effective way of generating hot water for the household, while air-source heat pumps can be used to remove unwanted heat from the interior of the house. Small-scale wind turbines can also be employed to generate electricity, with their effectiveness determined by the wind conditions at the site.
Sustainable Building Materials
When addressing sustainability in architecture, it’s important that the choice of building materials doesn’t have a negative impact on the environment. Recycled materials such as reclaimed lumber can help to reduce the energy consumption that goes into manufacturing new materials. When older buildings are demolished, useable wood is usually reclaimed and renewed, allowing these materials to be retrofit and serve a new purpose, together with old doors, windows, mantels and hardware.
When looking at new materials for sustainable buildings, those that can be rapidly renewed, such as bamboo, are good options. Bamboo can be harvested for commercial use after just six years, which is a rapid reduction when compared to timber. Wheat straw and sorghum, that are otherwise waste materials, can be pressed into panels, while cork oak, the outer layer of bark, can be utilized while the tree itself remains preserved.
When possible, sustainable architecture uses materials that are found at the building site itself, reducing the need for energy-intensive transport or the manufacture of additional material. For example, if trees are being cut down to make way for the building, these should be employed as part of the building itself.
Sustainability in architecture also means using low-impact building materials wherever possible. Insulation made from recycled denim or cellulose that are low VOC (volatile organic compound) emitting are preferable, as are milk-based paints. While many “green” products still contain naturally occurring VOCs, they tend to be of a lower intensity and amount than their counterparts.
Sustainable Waste Management Systems
To achieve sustainability in architecture, it’s also important to address how household by-products will be handled in a low-impact manner. Systems need to be built into the design that will manage things like gray water harvesting for garden beds, composting toilets to reduce sewage and water usage, as well as on-site food waste composting. Each element can help to significantly reduce a household’s waste well into the future.