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Sustainable Design of Buildings

Sustainable design is simply described by environmentalist Paul Hawken as “stabilizing the currently disruptive relationship between earth’s two most complex systems —  human culture and the living world.”  In his book “Creating Comfortable Climatic Cities”, Duzan Doepel discusses different strategies to combat climate change in terms of architectural design. Although sustainable design has been introduced in the architectural industry, the motives behind it vary. Some people pursue sustainable design because they realize the impact of their behavior on the environment; and then there are others wanting to “capitalize” on the “Green Revolution.” Whatever the case, within the architectural industry from design to construction, new tools and methods need to be introduced allowing the development of social, economic, and ecological capital.

            As people have slowly realized over the years- climate change is a real thing and going green has become mainstream. However, this does not translate to a shift in behavioral and habitual change within people. Doepel argues people may be aware of their actions impacting the environment, but they don’t do much to counteract them. Instead, change is usually implemented when a problem arises, and that’s when people choose to do something about it. The three elements — ecological, economic, and social of eco-design and sustainability are combined to highlight the triple bottom line agenda of businesses regarding people, planet, and profit. However, these elements are not incorporated by architects because thus far the designs of architects are a “camouflage” of going green as Doepel puts it, and they eventually inspire other architects, leading to the same type of building designs all around the globe without any regard to the microclimate and culture surrounding it. Within the architectural industry, research, education, and practice needs to be incorporated to accelerate the process of change and bring about sustainable design.

Due to climate change and global warming, the summers are becoming hotter, winters are becoming drier, and water levels are rising. In 2011 in the city of Rotterdam, there was a difference of temperature by 7 degrees Celsius (44.6 F) compared to the countryside. This was due to the absorption and retention of heat within the city infrastructure and material such as asphalt, bitumen, stone like materials, hard surfaces, the quality of the buildings, movement of air, and the evaporative cooling from the surface water and urban green. The use of vegetation and hard and dry surfaces can raise or reduce the humidity of the air before entering the building. To negate the problem of heat absorption and retention impacting the building unit, the Olgyay brothers designed buildings differently for different climatic regions. They took into consideration the natural temperature swings of the climate zone they were designing for, and they tried to increase human comfort while reducing the need for mechanical heating and cooling.  

A problem our societies deal with around the globe is our reliance on non-renewable energy resources. We are depleting these sources at an exponentially dangerous rate and in our lifetimes, they will be completely gone. To solve this, architects must create new developments as “energy neutral” or “energy plus” in which the building is self-reliant on its own energy. Energy solutions need to be designed for housing units with their pre-existing conditions in mind. The building industry needs to reuse and upcycle (process when a product is reused, resulting in higher quality and value than the original) its materials to become efficient and to meet its need, use renewable or bio-based materials. To encourage building owners to implement sustainable practices in their buildings, different programs by governments have been implemented such as LEED ((Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method), and Cradle to Cradle. To enforce owners to implement sustainable practices and materials, governments have also set restrictions within the building laws to at least make the building somewhat sustainable.

            There are efforts being made to become sustainable, however this research proves more needs to be done. Different home/building designs must be constructed and tested for the environment they will be built for. The author brought up the point that our smartphones are designed and tested immensely before being released to the mass public. Although phones are expensive, our biggest investment is our homes and where we live. It determines our quality of life and majority of our income is invested in this product/property, but not enough research is done to make the building model better and perform sustainably. It does not make sense that although there are alternatives in the market for sustainability, there are still not enough for architects to design all aspects of the building model making their job more complex. Also, since so much of the construction process to become sustainable relies upon the designer — the architect, a better education system must be integrated which educates them on sustainable design.  Incorporate the design, which is based on ethics, economy, and social rather than only on economy.

Works Cited:

Doepel, D. Creating Comfortable Climatic Cities: Comfort and Climate as Instruments for Healthy Interior, Architectural & Urban (Re)Design. Rotterdam University Press, 2012.

“Upcycle.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/upcycle.

Miller, Rebecca. “What Is Sustainable Design?” WILD HEARTH, WILD HEARTH, 17 Mar. 2018, www.wildhearthblog.com/home/what-is-sustainable-design.

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