Sustainable Architecture, Responsible Design

Buildings contribute a large percentage of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions (30%) and are a key source of our nation’s energy and resources consumption (65% of electricity consumption, 30% of raw materials use, 12% of potable water consumption).

There is a lot of attention these days focused on reducing our carbon footprint and saving our planet’s natural resources. Since buildings are such huge energy consumers, it’s fitting that the movement to make them more energy efficient or “sustainable” involves professionals who design buildings for a living: architects.

Sustainability in architecture was pioneered in the 1970s by architects such as Ian McHarg, author of the thought-provoking book Design with Nature, which is still a definitive guide for today’s designers. Since then, the number of buildings incorporating sustainable design principles has grown exponentially, due to growing worldwide awareness of the risks of climate change.

What exactly does “sustainable” or “green” mean in the context of building design?

  1. Capable of being maintained at length without interruption, weakening, or loss in power or quality
  2. Of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.

Sustainable architecture is the philosophy of designing and building as much resource longevity into projects as possible. This includes reuse/redesign projects as well as new buildings. Also known as “green architecture,” “green building” “responsible design” or “sustainable design,” sustainable architecture is much more than a trend – it has become a mandate for assuring the future of our planet.

Sustainable architecture, also known as green architecture or sustainable design, is one of the hottest topics in architecture. Today, it is pretty much expected that architects will want to integrate sustainable principles into their projects. It is the philosophy of building resource longevity into as many aspects of reuse or new building projects (or redesigns) as possible.

Today’s architects employ and integrate a variety of sustainability principles, including:

  • Specifying “green” building materials from local sources
  • Reducing energy loads
  • Optimizing energy systems
  • Generating on-site renewable energy
  • Using low-impact building materials
  • Using architectural salvage and reclaimed materials
  • Using materials obtained from the site itself
  • Orienting the building to take advantage of cooling breezes and sunlight to reduce energy consumption
  • Optimizing heating and cooling systems

Good sustainable architecture also reduces waste of energy, water and materials. During the construction phase, an architect can specify methods that will reduce the amount of material going to landfills. Well-designed buildings also help reduce the amount of waste generated by the occupants as well, when the architect incorporates on-site solutions such as compost bins to reduce matter going to landfills.

Architects have a unique opportunity to apply “sustainable” or “green” or “responsible” design practices that truly have immediate and lasting effects.

By designing with careful attention to the environment, architects contribute to making the world more livable for everyone.