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What is sustainable Architecture ?

Updated: Jan 4, 2022

Sustainability is a buzzword that has already infiltrated many industries. With construction being a major contributor in global energy consumption, it is then no surprise that sustainable architecture has become a leading consideration in how buildings and cities are being built.

Now, architects are challenged not only in crafting a design that excels in form and function, but also in being able to come up with integrated solutions that take into account environmental factors.

To better understand this concept. It’s important to discuss what sustainability in architecture really means.

The World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainability as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. When applying this complex concept to architecture, it then refers to design that creates healthy living environments while aiming to minimise negative environmental impacts, energy consumption, and use of human resources. Sustainable architecture is reflected in a building’s materials, construction methods, resource use and design in general. The design must also facilitate sustainable operation during the building life cycle, including its ultimate disposal. While it has to be functional and aesthetically superior, the space has to be constructed with the mind-set of achieving long-term energy and resource efficiency. Sustainable architecture is also referred to as green architecture or environmental architecture. It challenges architects to produce smart designs and use available technologies to ensure that structures generate minimal harmful effects to the ecosystem and the communities. If you are not from the construction world, it may be difficult to get your head around this concept so giving an over simplistic example at this stage may be necessary. Imagine that there is a plot of land that you think is conveniently located for you to build your house. The problem, however, is that there are 100 trees planted on it and that these trees are the last of their kind. If sustainability is not a concern, what you’ll probably do is cut down all the trees to clear the space and use all the lumber to build your house – not caring if nobody else gets the chance to use the same kind of trees in the future. This is the opposite of sustainable architecture. Sustainable architecture means putting environmental factors into consideration:

  • Is there a nearby piece of land you can use instead?

  • How can you use some of the wood from the trees without completely depleting the entire plantation so others can also benefit?

  • Could you perhaps still build your house in the space without cutting down all the trees?

These are just some factors that should be considered when approaching the sustainable concept in design and construction. Sustainable architecture needs to recognise the existing natural resources and environmental conditions in the construction site and how to incorporate these into the build.

Why is sustainable architecture important?

“Buildings and construction account for more than 35% of global final energy use and nearly 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions.”

-UN Environment, Global Status Report 2017

While metropolises are continuously expanding, the Earth itself is not getting any bigger. This growth has a huge impact to the environment because the process of developing new habitats for our communities constantly requires a huge chunk of our natural resources. The Earth is not an unlimited well that can replenish itself to match the pace of modernisation.

According to the UN Environment Global Status Report 2017, building and construction account for more than 35% of global final energy use and for nearly 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions. While these numbers are lower than those in 2010 due to a higher awareness regarding sustainability, there’s still a long way to go.

Designing a building’s form and appearance can no longer be carried out in isolation. Building services, fabric and controlled fittings are now all intrinsically linked. A delicate balance now needs to be made between a building’s form, function and interactions with its surrounding environment to be considered sustainable development.

In implementing sustainable architecture whether in new or old builds, there are accompanying environmental, economic and social benefits.

Environmental Benefits of Sustainable Architecture:

  • Conservation and restoration of natural resources

  • Reduction in energy consumption and waste

  • Protection of ecosystems and environmental biodiversity

  • Improvement of air and water quality

Economic Benefits of Sustainable Architecture:

  • Reduction in long-term costs and dependence on traditional energy sources

  • Improvement in productivity of inhabitants

  • Upgrade asset & property values

  • Competitive advantage

Social Benefits of Sustainable Architecture:

  • Improve the living conditions, health and comfort of inhabitants

  • Improve air and water quality

  • Minimise demand on local utility infrastructure.

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