Humans have, without a doubt, harmed the environment by taking benefit of the resources. Collectively, we then talk about sustainability and meeting the needs of the present without compromising the future generation’s needs. But the environment is getting polluted and degraded even if we only meet our needs and create net zero designs.
The planet now asks us to do better. We should look at environmental issues, develop strategies that cause additional damage, and devise innovative solutions to improve the situation. From an ecological perspective, buildings can have both beneficial and dire consequences. The essential aspects in this regard are renewable energy, water, air, soil management, and gas emissions.
Why is it important?
As architects, we must ensure that we are designing structures in a sustainable manner that will not affect the environment. Of course, some building construction will contribute to an area’s carbon footprint, but it can be minimized if prepared ahead of time. The more environmentally aware architects, the better off we will be in a few years.
Architects need to construct something that will last. If any structure is not designed with proper consideration, it would have great difficulty with changing scenarios around us, be it in terms of climate or functions. Nobody wants to invest in a property that lasts only 10-20 years. It is time to construct properties that help the environment and stand the test of time and global warming.
Waste and Debris from construction and demolition of buildings (C&D waste) often contains dangerous materials. 22% of air pollution, 40% of drinking water, and 50% of landfill waste are from the construction industry. Building sites often produce unsafe refuse such as mercury, lead, sanding dust, etc.
Off-site, prefabricated technologies can be an efficient strategy to dramatically reduce construction waste from the equation, along with other alternative building methods. Individual modules and components are manufactured in an industrial setting in the case of prefabricated buildings. The completed modules are then delivered to the construction site and integrated to form a structure according to the design specifications. Because the designs are detailed to the millimeter, there is minimal resource waste, which is common in traditional brick-and-mortar construction.
Some wastes require exceptional management, such as C&D waste, sewage sludge, hospital, or more particularly, medical wastes, and toxic materials in general. In Auroville in India, the disposal of C&D waste is done best, which has been and continues as a permanent building site for some time. All construction debris and demolition rubble are utilized to build roads or as a filler material. There are even talks of a small town (100 houses) being made from construction waste.
Build no more – Reuse, Renovate, Repurpose
The 3Rs have changed in the construction industry, but the essence is the same. Building more housing, skyscrapers, or anything else, leads to more waste and building materials being produced and used. The entire process is a base ground for emissions and pollution. Another term for the same is adaptive reuse.
The destruction of ancient structures is one of the development’s most environmentally damaging components. Adaptive reuse avoids this stage of the process and its harmful consequences. We can eliminate waste and conserve vital resources by reusing as many existing structures and materials as feasible. By replacing obsolete equipment and enclosures that are a drain on energy efficiency, adaptive reuse can enhance a building’s overall utility performance.
The Emporium, in San Francisco, is a massive antique arcade; the same edifice initially held the Harding Theater, a 1926 movie and music theatre. The historic façade of the building was conserved. Still, the interior was refurbished and reconstructed to provide a modern and exciting setting for playing games.
With the global average temperatures rising yearly, we will need more insulated and better-living environments. The solution to increasing temperature cannot be adding more air conditioning, even if it is solar power. Better designs that provide thermal comfort are an upcoming necessity. Learning from our ancestors and building using passive strategies can help reduce conditioning costs and energy usage.
Architects may lead the way in reducing emissions with envelope upgrades and other system optimizations. According to AIA, architects measuring building energy consumption lowered their carbon emissions by 17.8 million tonnes of CO2 per year in 2017, comparable to 21 million acres of forest planting. Climatic-based methodologies can be used to design energy-efficient buildings based on sun, wind, light, and microclimate concerns.
We started with sustainability in 1970, bringing in laws, regulations, and mandates, but now we have come to a deadlock as a community. Net zero and green efficiency buildings will keep coming up, but the future needs to improve. We no longer design buildings that don’t create a negative or zero impact on the environment; instead, we should aim to design buildings that foster a positive impact.
- Pallerino, M., 2022. The importance of repurposing historic buildings | Commercial Construction and Renovation. Commercial Construction and Renovation.
Available at: <https://www.ccr-mag.com/the-importance-of-repurposing-historic-buildings/>.
- Mezzetti, D., 2022. Auroville Center for Urban Research. [online] Auroville.info.
Available at: <https://www.auroville.info/ACUR/templates/workshop_waste.htm>.
- Melton, P., 2022. Four ways architects can fight climate change. [online] Aia.org.
Available at: <https://www.aia.org/articles/6074306-four-ways-architects-can-fight-climate-cha>.