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Sustainable design in the built environment

Sustainable design in the built environment

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As the climate crisis accelerates, our need to build a better, more sustainable future becomes more pressing. Research shows that the built environment is responsible for 39% of all carbon emissions around the world – with operational emissions (such as heating, air conditioning and lighting) accounting for 28%. As a result, sustainable design, also referred to green architecture, sustainable architecture or ecological design, is emerging across the world.

What is sustainable design? 

Sustainable design is an architectural process which sets out to decrease a building’s negative impact on the environment by using environmentally-friendly materials, minimizing waste and reducing the use of non-renewable resources. In doing so, sustainable design also seeks to improve the health, wellbeing and experience of occupiers, too. 

Sustainable design also considers ways to reduce the negative impacts on the environment at every phase of design and build process. The motivation is not merely to create a building, it is to create a future.

The principles of sustainable design

There are a number of different theories around the principles of sustainable design. According to Jason F. McLennan’s seminal book, The Philosophy of Sustainable Design: The Future of Architecture, they are: 

•    Learning from natural systems
•    Respect for natural resources and energy
•    Respect for people
•    Respect for place
•    Respect for the future
•    Systems thinking

Other principles by separate thought leaders include: 

•    Building design should heal the planet
•    Sustainable design should eliminate the concept of waste
•    Architects or designers should accept responsibility for the consequences of design decisions

Examples of sustainable design 

With mounting pressures to reverse climate change, along with a genuine belief and backing of sustainability initiatives, the built environment is responding to calls to create a more sustainable world.

There are already impressive examples of sustainable design, with plenty more set to follow.

•    The Bahrain World Trade Centre: The Bahrain World Trade Centre receives around 11 to 15% of its required electricity from its very own wind turbines. Not only is it the first skyscraper in the world to incorporate wind turbines into its structure, but it’s also the first commercial building to integrate wind turbines on a horizontal axis. (Left picture)

•    The Vancouver Convention Centre: The convention centre’s new West building expansion is LEED Platinum certified and has received an award for its environmental best practices in building management. Not only does the centre recycle almost half of its waste and feature on-site water treatment, but it has a ‘living roof’ which features 400,000 indigenous plants and provides a home for around 240,000 bees – whose honey is used in the centre’s café. (Middle picture)

•    One Central Park, Sydney: Together, botanist Patrick Blanc and architect Jean Nouvel collaborated to create these two residential towers – with a five-storey shopping centre above them. The structure is covered in a vertical garden, featuring 383 species of plants, and also includes an on-site thermal tri-generation plant to supply energy. (Right picture)

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