Global efforts to combat the effects of climate change and environmental degradation have led to the infiltration of sustainability into every industry.
The architecture industry is one of the many at the forefront of this phenomenon. According to the 2020 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction, the building sector accounted for 36 percent of final energy consumption, and 38 percent of total global energy-related CO2 emissions. The numbers are alarming, hence the concept of sustainable architecture has taken root in the building sector.
While maintaining the same quality and material factors as before, the additional challenge presented by sustainable architecture is the minimisation of negative environmental effects, with efficient and moderate use of natural resources and materials. Let’s look at it in more detail for better grasp of the concept, its importance, and strategies.
1. What is sustainable architecture?
Sustainability is a broad concept, which according to the World Commission on Environment and Development, means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet theirs. When applies to architecture, sustainability implies that the effect of construction and building on the environment, including natural resources, energy, and different ecosystems must be minimal.
Essentially, what this means is the reduction of negative human impact on the environment as much as possible. There are a few boxes that need to be checked when it comes to construction practices being labelled as sustainable architecture. While there are many important factors to consider, a few of these relate to energy consumption, usage of materials, and the methods employed in the construction process.
Energy consumption sustainability means usage of renewable energy resources such as solar and wind energy, and zero energy balance of buildings with production of energy equaling the consumption. Similarly, the usage of renewable and recyclable materials, and ways to replace conventional, harmful materials with eco-friendly ones is another aspect of sustainable development. The concept also implies using methods and plan of construction that incorporate these aspects such as micro apartments to minimise land and energy usage.
In short, sustainable architecture seeks to use smart and innovative strategies for construction that keep all these factors into consideration, while still ensuring the optimal usage of space and other resources for the buildings’ design, purpose, and livability. Efficiency and optimization are principles at the core of sustainable architecture.
2. The need for sustainable architecture
With a growing population, the need for new construction projects for corporate, commercial and housing sector only increases. At the same time, however, the alarming statistics regarding the impact of traditional architectural practices on the environment reinforce the idea that the two factors must reach a balance to ensure construction proceeds without damaging the environment any further.
Thus, the need for sustainable architecture is two-fold – the preservation of the environment, and the continued development of the construction sector – the two are intrinsically connected. An unchecked approach to architecture means that eventually the damage to environment, and the depletion of resources will lead to inability of the construction sector to keep up. So to continue to meet the needs of the construction sector, sustainable architecture is the only solution.
3. The impact of sustainable architecture
The impact of sustainable architecture is not only limited to the environment but also reaches the social and economic spheres. To appreciate the importance of sustainable architecture, here are a few examples that will put things in perspective.
Environmental changes as a result of sustainable architecture are some of the most important ones. In fact, United Nations Environment Programme estimates that the global sustainable architecture, or green building as it is commonly referred to, can cut down the total energy consumption by 50% by 2050, and have the most significant impact on the reduction of greenhouse gases, including CO2. Furthermore, records of sustainable architecture buildings show a reduction of around 40% in energy consumption as opposed to the traditional architecture buildings. Generally, these are some of the expected and observed benefits of sustainable architecture on the environmental front:
- Conservation of natural resources
- Efficient disposal of waste
- Reduction in toxic emissions
- Better air quality.
Economic benefits of sustainable architecture aren’t any less attractive either, and are spread across all communities of people. On a global scale, the European Commission estimates that the savings on energy consumption could be up to 410 billion euros. This implies that tenants and households will save on utility bills. Other financial benefits include:
- Creation of jobs
- Lower construction costs
- Increased property values
- More investment opportunities.
Interestingly, the benefits of sustainable architecture also extend to the social sphere, and are shown to positively impact the lives of inhabitants and workers. Key benefits are:
- Improved productivity
- Improvement in comfort and living conditions
- Better health due to better water and air quality.
4. How can sustainable architecture be implemented?
With so many benefits of sustainable architecture, the industry is increasingly shifting towards sustainable practices. However, practical implementation of sustainable planning, design, and construction are complex processes that require multiple factors to be taken into account – energy, materials, natural resources, weather conditions and land. An innovative and methodological approach to construction is required with an emphasis on minimal environmental damage.
Consequently, achieving a sustainable design often means that many experts from different sectors, like electrical and mechanical engineers, come together to formulate a concrete plan. Planning the construction process according to the principles of sustainable architecture demands the use of efficient and effective strategies that are optimized to the particular conditions, such as the location, and the availability of land, resources, and energy.
There are several strategies used by architects that ensure sustainability pertaining to different aspects of the concept. For example, practices to reduce energy consumption include optimal placement of windows, using sustainable lighting options, and opting for renewable energy sources. Similarly using renewable and eco-friendly materials for construction such as bamboo, cork, and flax instead of conventional materials like concrete and lumber can make a significant difference as well. Prior landscaping can also ensure that areas with native trees and plantations can forgo construction, and can help select suitable sites that prevent damage to ecosystems.
To help achieve the goal of sustainability in architectural practices, third party inspection is a useful and even necessary step. Certifications such as BREEAM not only help in the consultation process for the maximization of sustainability in construction of buildings and infrastructure, but also analyse and evaluate the final result to ensure the highest standards are met.
5. The future of sustainable architecture
Sustainable architecture has far-reaching positive impacts on multiple sectors, with significant potential to reverse the damage to environmental factors such as climate and pollution. It offers many benefits on the economic and social fronts as well, that can contribute to economic and human resource development.
There has been significant improvement and innovation in methods and technology used for architecture over the years, and the industry has taken notice of the dire consequences of traditional architectural methods on the environment. However, the portion representing sustainable architecture from global construction industry is still quite small, and there is still a long way to go.
One of the biggest challenges faced in pursuit of sustainable architecture is the short-term monetary cost that can be higher than the cost using conventional methods, materials and energy resources. However, it is more often than not a misconception that stems from ineffective planning in the initial stages.
To achieve the desired goals of sustainable architecture, there is no substitute for professional expertise to guide you on the various challenges, prospects, and strategies of any construction project, and offer the right solutions at every step of the way while maximising both environmental benefits and cost-efficiency.
There is no doubt that the future is in sustainable architecture. Reach out to archiroots now to get the expert opinion you’re looking for.