What is sustainability?
A term more often used to describe or decorate rather than actually be implemented these days. It is merely a concept that has taken roots in the beginning of the concept itself. The ideology of self-reliability is what this mostly revolves around. Sustainability can have context in various entities. We see sustainability in architecture, in food, in clothing and the list goes on. For today’s topic, I am going to be elaborating on the idea of sustainability in architecture and the various means by which we can achieve it.
By definition, Sustainability in architecture addresses the negative environmental and social impacts of buildings by utilizing design methods, materials, energy and development spaces that are not detrimental to the surrounding ecosystem or communities. Primarily, sustainability in architecture needs to take into account the natural resources and conditions at the site, incorporating these into the design wherever feasible. It also means utilizing materials that minimize the structure’s environmental footprint, whether that be due to energy-intensive manufacturing processes or long transport distances. Using materials that are locally available or ensuring that the building is energy efficient will go a long way as far as sustainability is concerned.
Before dwelling any deeper into the subject, let me take you a few steps back to understand the basic concept of self-sustenance. Let us go back to the village home that our grandparents came from. These homes, which most of us would have stayed in or at least visited, would have been built in the local stone or mud. Craftsmen and artisans from around the village had a direct impact on the style and architecture of the building. Not only was there minimum transportation involved to get the raw materials to the site, it also gave the locals an empowerment and a sense of ownership over that particular village’s identity. Seeing as electricity was still a luxury back then, the buildings themselves were built to self-ventilate. Methods such as cross ventilation, shading devices and stack effect were rudimentary methods of passive cooling that are now finding themselves extremely popular once again. Next, we go to the food they ate. A majority of the grain came from crops that grew around the house. Vegetables and fruit were seasonal and again of local produce. ‘Fresh’ and ‘organic’ were terms unknown to them, but available in huge abundance. The lack of a refrigerator meant zero storage of leftover food and in turn, minimal wastage, thereby reducing the amount of waste accumulation.
CHECK THE LOCALE
One of the first and most important points whilst keeping sustainability in mind is to consider the locale – the surroundings like the culture, the environments, the local climate, the topography, etc,. Even the slightest considerations as far as these parameters go can prove to be a huge win over the years. Perhaps there are cultural or religious considerations that need to be taken into account too. This is particularly important if you are building within a community that is not your own, ensuring that locals approve and feel included in the project, rather than imposing it on them.
One of the most important goals in achieving sustainability in architecture is energy efficiency over the lifetime of a building. This means using various techniques both passive and active to reduce the load on the energy dependencies. Ensuring good amount of cross ventilation and air circulation will reduce cooling loads. Adequate amount of sun shading devices will lower heat loads. Installing solar power and water heating makes the home self-sufficient. Basically, do anything to enhance their ability to capture or even generate their own energy. The possibilities of exploiting local environmental resources is one of the critical things to consider when carrying out initial site inspections. Even at the time of planning, the placement of the building itself can significantly help sort out much of the problem. Climatology is an in-depth subject, but basic understanding of the way the sun moves around the atmosphere is quite simple and does not take too much to figure out.
SUSTAINABLE BUILDING MATERIAL
When addressing sustainability, the choice of the building material is of great importance. Like it was said earlier, it is important to ensure that the materials required to build the structure do not have too much of an impact on the environment. How this roughly translates is as follows. Sand, cement and bricks are all not locally available around the site and need to be picked from nearby manufacturers, hence, that is OK. However, choosing to use a particular material that needs to be shipped from vast distances effectively means that the transportation itself of that material to your site is adding a certain amount of carbon into the atmosphere by way of transport emissions. Another way to look at the whole subject is how sustainable the manufacturing of the material is. Considering a large amount of resources and energy goes into the manufacturing of the material only reduces its sustainability quotient, and in turn brings down the sustainability of your structure. That being said, you do not have to be so hard on yourself and take the drastic measures of avoiding materials that you would love, but have to cancel out due to the point I just mentioned, but instead, make peace with one and try and re-use or refurbish another whilst realising your dream home. When looking at new materials for sustainable buildings, those that can be rapidly renewed, such as bamboo, are good options. Bamboo can be harvested for commercial use after just six years, which is a rapid reduction when compared to timber. Sometimes, using materials from the site itself can be a huge win.
SUSTAINABLE WASTE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
Last but not the least, addressing all the building components is completely useless unless you figure out how the waste from the home will be disposed off. I don’t mean giving a clean connection to the nearby sewer line. A truly sustainable system will ensure all the household by-products be handled in a low-impact manner. Systems like grey water recycling for irrigation systems, rainwater harvesting to meet water needs, waste composting to reduce solid waste disposal and food waste composting for fertilizer – each element can help to significantly reduce a household’s waste well into the future
Overall, the philosophy on sustainable architecture is to be true to yourself, and I mean really true to yourself. Keep asking yourself what is the least harmful way to do this. Quite honestly, the solution mostly is not too far from the readily available one. At times, falling cheaper, but most importantly, it is the feel-good factor that makes it all worthwhile.