When you type in ‘green architecture’ in google images, all the comes up are these glamorous buildings. But simply sticking some solar panels and some plants on a building doesn’t magically make it ‘green’.
Considering all the different environmental challenges we are facing, it only seems logical to start building more sustainably. The infrastructure industry is having a huge negative impact on the world. Extracting raw materials, manufacturing concrete, the overuse of electricity and water, and finally the waste that goes to landfills after a building is knocked down at the end of its lifetime. All of these are contributing to either climate change, pollution, or the depletion of natural resources.
Once again we need to stop trying to make everything as cheap as possible and start thinking of the environment.
What makes a building sustainable?
Green architecture is a new approach where the focus is on minimizing the impact on the environment, conserving energy, and preserving finite natural resources. A building should always be designed carefully and in a way, that benefits people and nature.
Cities are expanding at an increasingly fast rate to accommodate the rise in population. The way we are creating cities is not sustainable and that needs to change. This is where green architecture comes in.
Here are some of the main aspects an architect has to consider if they aim to design a sustainable structure.
01. The Materials
By using locally-sourced materials, it reduces the carbon footprint of the building. Why import wood from a different continent, when the same or similar is available near you?
Natural & recycled material
When given the choice, architects should always opt for natural materials like bamboo or wood instead of concrete. Bearing in mind, that all wood should be certified (eg FSC certified) to show they come from sustainably-managed forests.
Even so, using recycled material is always the best option because no new resources are used. Using recycled material also reduces the amount of waste that goes to landfill. Recycling building material should become more widespread because millions of tonnes of it end up in landfills every year.
An added bonus of using natural materials is that they can break down naturally unlike man-made ones.
Fortunately, there are always new materials being invented in very innovative and creative ways. Saying this, they must become more widespread and cheaper in order for the whole world to move away from unsustainable building materials like concrete because the production of concrete is one of the biggest sources of carbon dioxide emissions.
When you think of green and sustainable architecture, the first thing that comes to mind is a building with green roofs and green walls. More architects are utilizing this idea of creating a space filled with nature. Green spaces should also be present inside to improve the well-being of people and allow them to reconnect with nature. Being around also has many benefits for our health.
We cut down trees and wipe out ecosystems in order to build homes and offices. Over the years, this has made us more disconnected from the natural environment. The better alternative is to integrate buildings within nature instead of integrating small green areas here and there in cities. The planet comes first. We rely on it for everything. Don’t forget that we are part of nature too.
Apart from looking pretty, vegetation has numerous benefits. They cool down the building as well as the surrounding area and they absorb rainwater. These are important as the world is experiencing more extreme weather events due to climate change. The absorption of rainwater will prevent floods while in areas with increasing temperatures, it will cool the city down and create a more comfortable place for people to live in.
It’s important to note that all vegetation must be native. It’s no use planting random plants. They must all be suited and adapted to the environment. There should also be high biodiversity. Green design is a way to bring nature back into cities
As environmental challenges become more pressing, architects around the world are incorporating nature into their design to produce some extraordinary buildings and structures. Singapore is a good example of this as seen below.
A house or any building cannot be fully sustainable unless it runs on renewable energy. We can’t rely on fossil fuels anymore. Solar panels are the easiest source of renewable energy as they can easily be installed on any building.
Energy efficiency is important if we want to reduce or energy demand. Installing energy-efficient lighting and appliances is one way to use less electricity. Even deciding on the orientation of the house can make a difference. Taking full advantage of the sun’s position can reduce the need for radiators during the cold seasons.
Having insulated walls and windows traps more heat inside. Floors and roofs can also be insulated. This results in needing less heating and cooling. It will keep your house at a nice temperature throughout the year.
Another way to naturally cool a building is with good ventilation. All homes and offices should have good ventilation to reduce their energy consumption.
Shading the building from the sun using trees stops it from overheating so air-conditioning doesn’t need to be used. It’s yet another natural cooling mechanism that is especially important in countries where the temperature is always high.
As well as wasting less energy, it’s also important to waste less water. This can be done by installing toilets, taps, showers, etc which are water-efficient and specifically designed to waste less water.
Buildings can also be designed to collect rainwater which can then be recycled and used. Singapore is again an excellent example. It has one of the best water management systems in the world. It’s important for them since they are such a small city with a very high population. Therefore, they aim to utilize all the water they can get to reach the high demand of its citizens.
05. Low carbon footprint
Another aim of green architecture is to make buildings carbon neutral. This means the amount of energy it produces is equal to the amount of energy it uses. This creates overall net-zero carbon emissions. As mentioned above, we can achieve this by installing solar panels for example and by reducing energy demand.
06. Minimal damage to the surroundings
The built environment should blend in with the natural environment so that it doesn’t disturb the surroundings. We should not completely destroy everything for our benefit.
Obviously, everything should be non-toxic for the well-being of ourselves and the health of the environment. Materials should not release any harmful chemicals into the soil or atmosphere because they can alter ecosystems as well as cause harm to our health.
There’s a new movement arising. People are choosing to live in tiny homes and micro-apartments as they are calling them. This is partly part of the minimalist movement. People are becoming happier by having less and the house they live in is no exception.
Having a big mansion as your home, yes even if it is covered with solar panels and trees, will not be as sustainable as a smaller home. That is because it requires more resources and would need more energy to maintain the desired temperature.
This does not only apply to homes but to any building. We need to use the space we already have more efficiently and that means going smaller. Which brings us on to the next point.
08. Efficient use of space
Indoor spaces should be maximized. We don’t need more land. We need to use the land we already have, better.
Urban sprawl is a big worry especially since it does not seem to be slowing down. If you don’t know what it is, urban sprawl is where cities are expanding and edging into natural habitats and inevitably destroying them, and with it all its biodiversity. Using the space we have more effectively will allow us to make more of what we already have. Instead of cutting down trees, we should use unused land within cities.
We can repurpose and reuse existing buildings rather than building new ones. Architects have the capabilities to renovate old homes or even industrial sites and fit them with green technology that makes them more efficient.
Deconstructing and knocking down buildings is a huge source of waste. So often, it’s better to modernize old, existing buildings and homes rather than start from scratch.
Green architecture needs to become the norm and not a small niche where only a few are doing it. It is usually more expensive to build eco-friendly buildings which is why most homes and buildings do not choose this path. They choose the cheaper and ‘easier’ option.
There is no one way to create a sustainable building. There are so many different ways to go about it. We just need creativity. A good example are the floating houses in Amsterdam. As sea levels are rising, flooding is becoming an issue and less land is becoming available. The human race is so good at adapting and that’s a skill that we need more than ever.
Currently, it’s mostly skyscrapers, stadiums and other buildings that are designed sustainably because they have the funding. However, it’s important that in the future all homes and all buildings are sustainable.
But maybe there’s an even better way to design our future cities. There’s a new concept called regenerative architecture. This does not only focus on the sustainability side but there’s an added aspect to it. Materials are aimed to be restored back into nature into so we don’t continue to deplete our natural resources.
Also read: Can Design Change The World?
The effects of climate change are starting to become more severe for more people across the globe. More people are starting to realize the severity of the situation. Everyone has a role to play in this including designers and architects.
Building this type of buildings is not only good for the environment. It also makes working conditions more pleasurable. Would you rather work all day in a grey office or a bright room filled with life, plants and innovative design?
Green architecture is almost a dream come true. It’s a perfect example of how people can live peacefully alongside nature. Sustainable architecture should be the way forward.