Home Architecture Guide 18 sustainable design principles in architecture

18 sustainable design principles in architecture

by Dr Prem Community Writer
Improving indoor air quality (IAQ)

Construction of buildings was responsible for about 40-50% of the waste material in landfills, and 20-30% of the toxic gas emissions. The design and operation of a building is thus very important for the health and well-being of the occupants and the environment. Architects are realizing the importance of good design based on design principles, which can minimize the impact of construction throughout the design process, from land efficiency, sourcing of material, nature of design, building process and the future impact of the completed building. Take a look at some of the sustainable design principles which are being followed now:

18 sustainable design principles of architecture

Harnessing natural energy

Rooftop solar panelSustainable design principles used in green architecture could denote buildings which are made from recycled materials or those which are powered by green energy or any existing building which has been retrofitted with green architecture elements to make it environment friendly, promote conservation, and is energy efficient.

One of the sustainable design principles is the use of natural energy to power the buildings. Renewable energy sources are installed in the building’s premises or the proper connections are made to connect with renewable energy providers. Rooftop solar panels have become quite popular with owners and clients both witnessing the environmental and financial benefits of it. Using wind and sun energy is also being farsighted as fossil fuels are depleted and will one day be every expensive and rare.

Thinking small

Convincing owners to build small individual buildings, which are aesthetically pleasing, affordable and uses up less energy is another sustainable design principles which is practiced today. Creating an office/ home which meets all the requirements of the inhabitants should be advised, as they would use much less fossil fuels to cool and heat.

Using environment-friendly materials

Using environment-friendly materialsEco-friendly materials are another aspect of eco-friendly buildings. The materials that are the most desirable in an eco friendly building are recycled, renewable/sustainable, or salvaged and those which use the least energy in production. Locally sourced materials are preferable, such as locally available wood or stone. This supports the local economy and reduces the fuel used in transportation, as well as reducing the carbon footprint of the project.

According to the sustainable design principles of green architecture, wood that is used should be derived from certified green forests, which are renewable and sustainable. Other materials used in the project should non-toxic, such as non-toxic paints, recycled plastic and so on.

Recycling and reusing the materials from demolition of old buildings at the site should be a primary concern. If there is no demolition onsite, then there are companies which can provide salvaged materials from other sites.

Remanufactured, salvaged or refurbished materials are preferred in sustainable design, and most important, as they save been saved from disposal and reused, saving space in the landfills. These materials are repaired, renovated and improved for performance, functionality and quality. For example, recycled plastic ceilings in cold regions.

Old plumbing and doors can be renovated and reused again, sometimes with just a fresh coat of paint. Choosing materials which are sturdy may cost initially, but reduce cost of upgrades and also have recyclable and reusable value.

Materials which conserve energy and water are preferred. These are materials which have been designed to enhance water quality in the landscaped areas as well as inside the building. Solar tiles and smart insulators are some examples of energy conserving materials.

Using solar gain

The sun’s energy is free and accessible for all. Green architects use the heat of the sun, not only by installing solar panels, but also by orienting the building in a way that maximizes the solar gain, and minimizes it when it is too hot. Building orientation as well as green building materials which can absorb the energy of the sun during daytime and slowly releasing it in the night can reduce energy needs drastically.

Increasing the energy efficiency

geothermal energy

To save the environment using sustainable design principles, architects have to plan for the energy efficiency of the building. Renewable energy sources, such as wind energy, geothermal energy and solar energy should be used to power the buildings. But this is not enough – architects have to use the heat of the sun to naturally heat the buildings, thus reducing the dependence on other energy sources. This can be done by building in a particular way and noticing the position of the sun during the day. Buildings can benefit from the changes in sun’s position during the seasons, ambient lighting will bring down energy bills and benefit the inhabitants’ mental state.

Using energy efficient lights such as LED lights, ‘weatherizing’ the building such as protection against the heat and cold. Window/door glazing can be used to reduce the loss of heat. Energy efficient appliances can be installed to enhance the energy efficiency of the building.

Sustainable architects understand that energy efficiency can be improved in many different ways, designing high-performance buildings where there is minimum waste of energy, by including renewable sources, using natural modes of heating/cooling, and wherever possible, installing less energy consuming products, both in the exterior and interior of the building.

Natural cooling design

Planting shade trees, digging into earth where buildings are half inside and half outside the earth, passive design and using screens such as the Mashrabiya screens are ways to beat the heat naturally. Natural ventilation has to be one of the main features of the design. The breeze of trees can provide refreshing air and the shade will keep the home cool.

Elimination of waste

landfillsFrom the beginning of the project to the completion and beyond, the goal should be to eliminate waste through reuse and recycling, and utilize the complete life cycle of all the processes and products. If the site has to be cleared, then the resulting debris has to be disposed off responsibly. Construction debris can be reused in the project itself, by making pavements, and walkways out of them, and the excess can be sold to other projects, instead of dumping in the landfills. The wood can be salvaged and reused. Fixtures too should be sent for recycling or used in the project.

Waste management systems should be designed in a way that the least amount of waste ends up in the oceans or landfills. Areas for compost, treating wastewater and reusing it, harvesting rainwater are components of eco-friendly buildings made with sustainable design principles.

Responsible land use

One of the sustainable design principles to save the environment is to protect the land. The architectural design has to complement the land rather than go against it. This type of design utilizes less amount of land for construction of building/s, leaving more space/land for recreational purposes such as parks. Minimizing the negative impact on the environment is also focused on.

Improving indoor air quality (IAQ)

Improving indoor air quality (IAQ)In the latest buildings made using green principles, architects are making the decision to use moisture resistant material which hinders growth of biological contaminants in the buildings. Some materials are 100% moisture resistant, thus increasing the durability of the buildings as well as the IAQ.

Indoor pollution can be quite harmful, sometimes indoor air can be more polluted than outdoors, so one of the features of the eco-friendly buildings made using sustainable design principles is the improvement of IAQ. This is done by using products which have low VOCs as they are much less hazardous to the health of the occupants. Filtering and ventilation technologies can also remove many toxins and pollutants.

Careful use of wood/timber

The aim of sustainable design principles is build eco-friendly buildings by conserving the forests. Forests are filled with trees which absorb the carbon from the atmosphere. Recent research points to the fact that trees are crucial to the planet and can play a big role in bringing down global warming. On an average, homes use timber from 100 trees. Instead of trees, other natural materials, such as earth which is quite abundant, can be used.

Earlier, architects and builders the world over constructed buildings by destroying trees on site and not bothering to replant. And timber was used without considering that it takes hundreds of years for forests to form. But now, with awareness of the environment and the necessity to protect it, architects and builders are sourcing from sustainable forests, where the trees which are cut down are replaced, thus creating a forest is not completely destroyed.

Space efficiency

roof garden

Sustainable architecture focuses on the importance of the indoor space quality. How the residents feel in a space which features a healthy indoor space with proper ventilation, non-toxic materials and easy temperature control using nature and artificial methods efficiently. Emphasis is laid on incorporating roof gardens, balcony gardens, green lobbies, earth shelters and extensive planting.

Biophilic design is the latest trend for sustainable buildings as this form of design has been shown to improve the performance of the occupants, of both workspaces and residences.

Using natural materials

Sustainable architecture has now started using the traditional construction methods of particular regions, used by the local people to naturally heat and cool their homes. Natural materials like stone or mud or lime breaths promote air circulation in homes. The internal environment is healthier and even the acoustics within the building is better. Ambient light is used to enhance lighting inside the house.

Building according to Passivhaus standard

ArchitectsAnother of the sustainable design principles in green architecture is building according to  Passivhaus standard. Passive house is a voluntary standard, which is quite rigorous, and applied to build structures which require lowest energy from the grid. Architects are able to achieve the requirements of this standard through thermal bridge-free design, ventilation, superior windows, airtight construction and quality insulation.

An example is using heat exchangers which transfer 75% heat from exhaust air to fresh air. This allows for good indoor air and saving of energy.

Understanding design limitations

Design has to be treated in a humble manner, making good, eco-friendly designs rather than huge projects which stand out among the surrounding, as an obstacle to nature which has to be overcome by the other dwellings around.

Water conservation

rainwater harvesting

Conserving water is high on the priority list of green architects. Low flow faucets, harvesting rainwater, recycling gray water are some of the commonly used ways to conserve water. While landscaping, plants natural to the region as well as those which need little water are planted. Drip irrigation and other modern techniques of irrigation are used to water gardens.

Shared facilities

Sustainable design principles focuses on building shared facilities which can save space. Common areas for people to sit, relax in and mingle are able to promote social life of people. This helps people to get to know their neighbors and build a support system for themselves, outside the family. People who share facilities can meet others belonging to other faiths and races, age and gender, thus making a community more tolerant of each other. Living in a home which is surrounded by neighbors is a peaceful situation which can be created by shared facilities.

Storing food without refrigeration

Storing food without refrigeration

Storage of food naturally is possible in homes which have cellars. People used to build pantries under the earth, traditionally, to keep their food fresh for a long time. The earth’s temperature stays constant even though the atmospheric temperature fluctuates. While building small, eco friendly houses, expert architects can include underground pantries to store food, wine and so on, the whole year.

Buildings made to last

One characteristic of sustainable architecture is that buildings are constructed to last for decades if not for centuries. Stringent rules and regulations when followed scrupulously by builders leads to superior buildings which will need little maintenance and upgradation.

Sustainable design principles are the guiding factors for constructing buildings which are zero-emission and which do not have a negative impact on the surroundings as well as the planet. The use of non-toxic materials enhancing occupants’ health and durability, low energy buildings, are the buildings of the future.