According to Live Kindly, sustainable architecture is “any architecture that attempts to limit the negative environmental impact of building construction and operation.” There are a few formal authorities who are able to provide confirmation of sustainable architecture, including the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM).
What is Sustainable Architecture?
he movement strives to popularize the use of recycled or Earth-friendly materials and the incorporation of renewable energy in a building’s plan. One of the most important facts behind sustainable architecture is that not only are the buildings more environmentally friendly, they are also cost-effective. Using renewable energy reduces household electricity bills up to $2,500 per year–and these savings are even greater for public buildings and large businesses.
However, sustainable architecture reaches beyond facts and figures. Oftentimes, the designs and elements of sustainable buildings are beautiful and sleek, representing a perfect union between modern design and the natural world. Their beauty comes from their appreciation of finer materials, organic shapes, and the knowledge that buildings can evolve to be closer to living, breathing organisms that give back to nature rather than taking from it.
The Negative Effects of Construction
The UN Environment Programme reported in 2020 that the emissions from the building sector had hit a record high–with the sector “accounting for 38 per cent of total global energy-related CO2 emissions.” According to their estimations, building sector emissions will need to fall by at least 6% per year in order to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
In addition, concrete production uses almost 10% of the world’s industrial water use and is one of the main factors contributing to the extreme CO2 emissions of the construction sector. According to LiveKindly, it also “causes heat waves” in cities due to the Urban Heat Island Effect. A move towards sustainable materials would not only reduce or fully remove these effects, but also presents many other benefits.
The Benefits of Sustainable Architecture
The biggest benefit of sustainable architecture is reduced carbon emissions. As seen in this graph provided by the Union of Concerned Scientists, natural gas releases 0.6 to 2lbs of CO2 per kilowatt-hour, while a renewable energy source such as solar power releases just 0.07 to 0.04lbs. Comparing the high ends of both spectrums results in a 186% difference in carbon emissions.
One interesting example of sustainable architecture is the idea of “living walls”. Living walls are vertical gardens that grow plants using hydroponics. Through this method, sustainable architects are able to create beautiful installations that bring aspects of the natural world into construction while providing countless benefits including improved air quality, energy efficiency, noise reduction, and mental health benefits. A study from the University of Plymouth also recently found that “living walls can reduce heat lost from buildings by over 30%.”
All of these benefits, combined with the undeniable beauty of these living installations, make them a highlight of sustainable architecture and provide multiple reasons for their adopted use.
Another benefit of sustainable architecture includes job opportunities as a result of the growth of the industry.
Related to the idea of sustainable architecture is the concept of cities built for humans instead of cars, an idea that is growing increasingly popular in the architectural landscape. In 2021, professor Carlos Moreno’s concept of the 15-minute city won the Obel Award for architectural achievement. The 15-minute city is an urban planning model that seeks to make sure that all citizens of a city can access their daily needs within a 15-minute distance, reducing the need for cars. “As part of sustainable urban design thinking, the model helps reduce car usage and carbon emissions, reduces commute time while generating more public spaces,” surmises ArchDaily.
The push for walkable cities not only provides environmental benefits, it also provides many strictly human benefits as well. According to Strong Towns, “Car fatalities have killed far more Americans than all of our wars combined,” “A 23 minute driving commute has the same effect on happiness as a 19% reduction in income,” and “For every extra 5 minutes Atlanta residents drive each day, they are 3% more likely to be obese.”
Simply put, cities should not be designed for vehicles. Doing so takes away from their beauty, their communities, the mental health of their residents, and more.
The world will be a better place if the popularity of sustainable architecture continues to rise. Not only are these buildings great examples of elegant engineering, cost-effective, and Earth-friendly, they are also beautiful. Likewise, the idea of the walkable city is not only sustainable but also has the potential to greatly improve the lives of many. In changing massive aspects of our lives to be geared more towards helping the planet, we will be able to combat climate change, one building at a time.