When thinking of sustainability, the first context that comes to mind is that of the environment. But as scientists delve deeper into research relating to climate change and environmental degradation, businesses and individuals alike are forced to look at the concept of sustainability in different contexts. Arguably one of the most popular implementations of the sustainability concept is in the context of architecture.
Sustainable architecture seeks to design and construct buildings with the minimal possible environmental impact, thereby satisfying the needs of the present without undermining the needs of the future (Garofalo, 2018). Sustainable architecture aims to satisfy various goals that conventional architecture fails to satisfy. This includes achieving energy efficiency, attaining heating/cooling system efficiency, utilizing sustainable building materials, and establishing efficient waste management systems.
Energy efficiency is the most important goal of sustainable architecture. By using both passive and active techniques, architects attempt to decrease energy needs of buildings and improve energy generation using renewable resources. Passive architectural design takes advantage of the climate and the building structure itself, hence reducing the need for auxiliary heating or cooling (McGee, 2013). Passive architectural techniques include: using thick, high-insulation walls to minimize heat loss; installing windows in specific locations to provide extra warmth during colder months; placing deciduous trees in front of windows to prevent excessive exposure to sunlight; and intentionally positioning the building near water bodies to take benefit from the natural cool winds and breezes.
Active architectural design incorporates mechanical devices that transport the absorbed solar energy to other locations in the building (“Active and Passive Designs in Green Building Architecture,” 2013). Active architecture exploits largely renewable resources like solar energy and wind energy. Photovoltaic solar panels are angled toward the sun to maximize the amount of solar energy harnessed. This solar energy can then be used as a sustainable source of electricity and as a source of heat for making warm water. Harnessing solar energy is the most vital part of sustainable development as photovoltaic cells require no fuel to operate and they do not produce any emissions whatsoever.
Another important aspect of a sustainable building is the materials used in its construction. Architects of sustainable buildings normally opt to use recycled or second hand materials such as wood, stone, and glass. These materials are found in industrial waste, in building demolitions or are even reclaimed from pavements. If new materials are employed, architects choose materials that are rapidly replenished by nature. Bamboo is a green architect’s best friend as it serves both the functional and aesthetic aspects of sustainable architecture.
In addition, an important characteristic to consider is the efficiency of waste management systems. A revolutionary concept in sustainable architecture is the on-site use of waste management. Sustainable buildings may be equipped with graywater systems that are responsible for treating water from sources such as sinks, baths and washing machines. This sterilized and safe water can then be used in toilet flushing or on garden beds. As a result, there is a net reduction in the demand for fresh water.
As a culmination of the article, let us consider an example of sustainability in the context of architecture. The K2 Sustainable Housing Project is the quintessential sustainable development project as it gives equal consideration to social and economic sustainability, as well as human and intergenerational sustainability (“K2 Apartments”). The project’s goals were in complete sync with conventional sustainable architecture goals: minimize greenhouse emissions and water consumption, and maximize the use of reusable and recycled materials.
“The four buildings that make up the project are connected by a green spine that not only creates shared and private courtyards for the residents, but it also encourages a communal awareness among the tenants, and promotes the sustainable functions of the building” (“K2 Apartments”). The buildings are positioned in such a manner that each and every apartment receives complete, year-round access to the sun. In the summer, building facades dissipate the effects of direct sunlight, and exposed concrete ceilings regulate temperature by performing the function of a large thermal mass. All building materials make the least possible footprint in terms of greenhouse, energy and toxins. Lastly, as the cherry on the cake, the entire structure is sustained by photovoltaic panels – complete in coexistence with the objectives of sustainable architecture.
What the K2 Apartments project reminds us is that ‘sustainable development’ is essentially an anthropocentric as well as an environmental exercise (“K2 Apartments”). It is clear that no development can honestly call itself sustainable unless its users represent the values the development stands for.