The Role of Sustainable Architecture in the Global Sustainable Development Agenda
Over the last 50 years, the world has experienced a profound change in the human populations and technology. Human populations have tripled; technological innovations have enabled man to tour the whole planetary systems. Increased populations have led to a demand for better housing which has yielded to modern multistory super complex structures such as the Burj Khalifa, giving the world a new face and presenting with it challenges involving food consumption, material and resource exploitation etc. Climate change, as a result, cannot be overlooked. Statistics show that 50% of the ecological imbalance i.e. disturbances of the ecological systems and overall environmental effects are as a result of the building and construction industry. Due to this, improving design and construction processes to minimize its detrimental effects on the natural and physical environment has clearly captured the attention of the building professionals across the world (Sev, 2008).
This article on sustainable architecture, therefore, seeks to demystify the role that can be played by the construction industry to achieve sustainable development through the construction of high performance and yet low environmental impact buildings.
The Impact of Architecture and Construction
The effect of construction to the environment is worth noting given that buildings are built to last and stand the test of time. For example, buildings like Kipande House in Nairobi have been around since the colonial period; in the 1930s. This tells that a building’s effect to the environment will last for years through its life. To assess the effect, building professionals should consider the life cycle from siting, planning, material sourcing, construction, occupancy and demolition.
Whereas traditional design and construction practices focused on cost, performance and quality of buildings, sustainable design and construction practices move beyond this constriction to include a response to climate, human needs and the natural environment. It focuses on the minimization of resource consumption, reduction of environmental degradation, creation of healthy built environments (Sev, 2008) and design for human health, comfort and general well-being.
For this paper to remain relevant to the issue of sustainable development, emphasis is put on the interrelationship and interaction between the construction industry and the natural environment, not overlooking the issues of economic growth, social sustainability and issues of environmental management and conservation.
Sustainable Architecture in the Sustainable Development Agenda
Sustainable development has remained a global agenda; a world concern. From the millennium development goals (MDGs) to the sustainable development goals (SDGs), the role played by the construction industry in the realization of a sustainable and stable world economy is evidenced. The burden of ensuring sustainability then lies on the architects, quantity surveyors, urban designers, contractors, engineers, suppliers, clients and all other players in this industry. Design and construction should then be done when the effect on the natural environment through the exchange of matter in the biosphere has been considered and studied well.
Ayasin Sev, in his paper: “How can the construction industry contribute to sustainable development? A conceptual framework.”, published in Wiley InterScience, splits the whole matter into three subtopics dealing with resource management, life cycle design and design for humans to explain sustainability which is the approach I will employ here. Focus here is laid on the efficient use of water, energy, materials, management of waste, preservation of the natural environment, design for health and comfort of humans and consideration of the life cycle effect of a building. This is inevitable for us to address the needs of the future generations.
A look at the facts about the construction industry in Kenya and other countries tells you that close to 40% (Melissa and Theresa, 2008) of the economy are dependent on the industry. From the conceptual design, when the architects come up with master plans of buildings, (architects will need computers, printers and papers to do architectural drafting, engineers the like and not to forget the quantity surveyors), to the period when the lifetime of a building is terminated, the sector is in need of input from other sectors in form of finished products and producer goods. This implies that a lot of energy is consumed as a result of the construction industry.
Sustainable Practices to Save our Future
Energy Consumption must be looked at an angle that will reveal how massive it is for corrective measures to be put. Production of the raw materials needed in the construction industry, transporting them, distributing them, installing them and using others, such as the electrical appliances, expends energy. Due to this, the industry also accounts for part of the carbon emissions that is radically turning our globe into a massive greenhouse; a giant oven that is going to roast us soon. Therefore, there is overwhelming evidence that shows how serious the issue is and should be tackled. Designers should embrace sustainability to ensure that buildings are built in a way that reduces energy consumption and reduces harmful emissions.
Reduction of energy consumption can be done through the following ways that embrace the reduction of usage of fossil fuels and encourages the use of renewable energy sources to cut down on emissions and risk of depletion in the future:
- Use of the technique of passive heating and cooling that depends on the orientation of the building and the construction technology employed. The focus here is to either minimize or completely do away with the use of mechanical ventilations, the ACs and the likes. It is achieved by modelling the building envelope to facilitate the exchange of heat between the inside and the outside environment according to the prevailing weather conditions.
- When sourcing for electronic goods such as computers, printers, fridges, dishwashers etc. insist on either Energy Star Certification or A+ and B ratings under the International Efficiency Labelling Scheme.
- Use of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar: Whereas the production and generation of electricity from petroleum products, coal and the likes is considered resource intensive and unsustainable, the use of wind and solar is sustainable in the use of materials, resources (both human and capital) and are eco-friendly since they do not emit pollutants. It can save to about 20% of the electricity bills we pay.
- Proper sizing of windows is also important to allow the penetration of sunlight while protecting them against direct solar radiation (e.g. sun shading) to prevent the building from heating up. It will save the energy that will have been used to light the spaces during the day when there is sunshine.
- In tropical areas such as Kenya and her neighbors, choice of external finishes on walls is paramount. Since the area receives much of the insolation during the day, use of light colored materials on the external parts of the building will assist in reflecting the excess radiation that would otherwise cause overheating of building and pose an operational cost of cooling them.
An epitome of a Kenyan project that is considered environmentally sustainable is the Learning Resource Center at the Catholic University of East Africa which incorporates many aspects of energy efficiency while still remaining aesthetically appealing (AAK, 2015). The design incorporates a good choice of materials by the architect in the basement that absorbs moisture from the ground and cools the building during the intense noonday sun as it evaporates and finds its way through windows protected by sun shading devices. It also incorporates an atrium for cooling with an allowance for natural lighting.
This shows that Kenya has not lacked behind in embracing sustainability though the response by different market players is considerably slow.
“Water is life”
It is an increasingly precious and scarce resource all over the world (Sev, 2008). The human population will definitely need water to survive on this planet. Given this, there is urgency in addressing the need for the creation of water consumption and conservation of efficient built environments. The following are among the measures that can be taken:
- To supplement the water supply, the collection of rainwater should be done. In urban developments where large areas of roof coverage are found, rainwater can be harvested by installing gutters and downpipes and the water stored in tanks to be used for household irrigation of flower gardens or for drinking. Collecting rainwater is in itself an economically sustainable activity in that it prevents runoffs that result to erosion which degrades our environment. That would have been otherwise an extra cost in trying to restore the beauty of our landscapes by combating erosion.
- Utilization of efficient plumbing fixtures and sanitary fittings will help reduce the portable water consumption. These plumbing fixtures include low flow and sensor faucets, dual flush meters, low flow and soap valve showerheads, waterless urinals in men’s public areas, among others.
- For our landscaping designs, our designers should seek to develop low demand landscapes that minimize on the areas covered by hard surfaces so as to allow rainwater to percolate underground and add to the underground water reserves. Nevertheless, the plants that we intend to use in beautifying our surroundings need to be adaptive to the local climatic conditions. For example, if the site is located in arid and semi-arid areas, the plants should be drought resistant to minimize the need for constant watering that will help save on this precious resource.
- Recycling of water is also another measure that will prove useful.
Green architecture encourages the responsible sourcing of materials. In the case of timber, the use of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified timber is encouraged since it helps in promoting a green building supply chain in the industry and in the preservation of the vegetative cover of our beautiful world. This means that the cutting down of trees (deforestation) will be reduced and it well in the conservation of water reservoirs, a good step towards combating climatic change and achieving sustainable economic development.
Also, in the case of other building materials reuse or recycling of waste is encouraged as it will help in the reduction of pollutants in the atmosphere which would have otherwise resulted from the production of new materials.
According to a feature article published by the Architect Magazine 2015, builders are encouraged to adopt the use of low volatile organic compounds brand of materials in construction to minimize or completely eliminate emissions that have negative effects to the health of human beings. The main aim here is to cut down on the negative impacts the building will have to the natural environment that also affects its occupants and individuals in the larger part of the world.
Waste from buildings is looked at in two categories. There is the waste generated on site during construction and the waste generated during the occupancy of the building. Each has a way of disposal e.g. for construction waste, the contractor should have a waste management plan that includes procedures and commitments to reduce waste generated on site and maximize the diversion of demolition and construction waste from landfill disposal.
In the case of waste generated during the occupancy of the building, every building should have bins for collection of waste with at least one dedicated in a place which can be easily accessed by people who are physically challenged. Furthermore, this paper encourages on the use of septic systems in the case where the building is not located near the municipal sewer lines. The idea is that septic systems are very sanitary and do not emit any foul fumes.
In this era of continued modernization and urbanization, sustainability in the construction industry can be addressed by analyzing the different factors that constitute an environmentally conscious design. Emphasis in this article has been laid on the above but there are other considerations too that the design team ought to be aware of.
For the built environments to be heathy and comfortable for us, these sustainable design and construction practices should be integrated in a holistic manner that aim at more than just the combination of individual components.
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Suggested Texts for Further Reading:
Sev, A. (2009). How can the construction industry contribute to sustainable development? A conceptual framework. Sustainable Development, 17(3), 161-173.
Ortiz, O., Castells, F., & Sonnemann, G. (2009). Sustainability in the construction industry: A review of recent developments based on LCA. Construction and Building Materials, 23(1), 28-39.
Spence, R., & Mulligan, H. (1995). Sustainable development and the construction industry. Habitat international, 19(3), 279-292.
Gavilan, R. M., & Bernold, L. E. (1994). Source evaluation of solid waste in building construction. Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, 120(3), 536-552.
Fisher, R. (2003). Integrating sustainable development into briefing and design processes of buildings in developing countries: an assessment tool (Doctoral dissertation, University of Pretoria).
Ugwu, O. O., & Haupt, T. C. (2007). Key performance indicators and assessment methods for infrastructure sustainability—a South African construction industry perspective. Building and Environment, 42(2), 665-680.
Myers, D. (2005). A review of construction companies’ attitudes to sustainability. Construction Management and Economics, 23(8), 781-785.
Son, H., Kim, C., Chong, W. K., & Chou, J. S. (2011). Implementing sustainable development in the construction industry: constructors’ perspectives in the US and Korea. Sustainable Development, 19(5), 337-347.
Hwang, B. G., & Tan, J. S. (2012). Green building project management: obstacles and solutions for sustainable development. Sustainable Development, 20(5), 335-349.
Gissen, D. (2002). Big and Green: Towards Sustainable Architecture in the 21st Century. Princeton Architectural Press: New York.
Junnila, S., & Horvath, A. (2003). Life-cycle environmental effects of an office building. Journal of Infrastructure Systems, 9(4), 157-166.
Chappells†, H., & Shove‡, E. (2005). Debating the future of comfort: environmental sustainability, energy consumption and the indoor environment. Building Research & Information, 33(1), 32-40.
I’m a quantity surveyor, content creator and the founder of QuantBuild Academy, the fastest-growing technology-focused YouTube channel online. I teach CAD & project management software to beginners and share residential design ideas and real estate property reviews with my viewers online.