Sustainable Architecture: Our Commitment to a Better Future

Opinions Dated:  April 14, 2016
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Environmental Architecture

“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” - Robert Swan

Sustainable architecture has been defined in diverse ways but the definition given in Wikipedia is perhaps most appropriate - “Architecture that seeks to minimize the negative environmental impact of buildings and moderation in the use of materials, energy and development space”. My purpose, here, is neither to define nor to explain sustainable architecture. It is a topic that has been extensively written about, discussed but seldom acted upon. My intention is to draw attention to the importance of sustainability.

The beauty of sustainable architecture is its compatibility with Mother Nature; the design adapts to its natural surroundings. Here, nature is the primary factor that will influence the design process.

Living RoomLiving Room - The Kulkarni House

Now, how is sustainable architecture actually advantageous?

Designing a building in a sustainable way is not just beneficial for the occupants of that building, but to the surrounding environment, the community and ultimately, the planet.

1.Sustainable architecture is instrumental in enhancing and protecting the biodiversity and ecosystems.
2. Favours lesser consumption of water and power.
3. Minimal usage and hence aids in sustaining natural resources.
4. Reduced operating costs.

TerraceSustainable Architecture - Residence for Talwars

Construction has been one of the most resource-hungry and least viable industries in the world. A building that is intended to subsist for a long period normally endures for about 50-75 years, if not more. So if we design a building that consumes a lot of energy, it will continue to deplete the resources for at least half a century. The problem with the building is that it is static; it is not liable to change. That is exactly why sustainable design is very important. The most effective way to create an eco-friendly building is to design it sustainably, right from the conceptual stage. A sustainable design uses renewable materials and energy efficient technology to reduce our dependence on traditional energy sources.

We are all aware of the perils of misusing the earth’s resources. Despite knowing the importance of reducing our carbon foot print and being conscious of the precarious balance between climate change and the construction sector, seldom is much importance given to sustainable design in architecture. According to a recent study by the United Nations Environment Programme, buildings account for nearly half of the world’s energy expenditures, 40% of greenhouse gases, 25% of potable water and 20% of all solid waste generated. In a recent survey done, it was noted that the top 10 most important impacts of construction activities are:

Deck in the Sunken Garden with mud plastered wallsDeck in the Sunken Garden with mud plastered walls - Dawns residence

1) Raw material consumption
2) Interference with the eco system
3) Removal of vegetation cover
4) Water consumption
5) Waste production
6) Loss of arable land
7) Generation of dust
8) Noise and vibration generation
9) Electricity consumption
10) Fuel consumption.

There is an old Native American saying that goes, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” It is up to us to sustain the earth in which we live in for our future generations. We, as architects, have a huge responsibility towards this planet. No longer can we ignore the ramifications of construction on nature.

sustainable bathroomSustainable Bathroom - The "Court" House

Most of the time, it is the architect who is entrusted to save this planet. It is also a client’s duty to share this responsibility and let the architect design a sustainable building. Usually, in most cases, sustainability is sidelined to meet the budget.

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” This quote by one of the greatest architects of all time, Frank Lloyd Wright, emphasizes the importance of designing buildings that are in harmony with mankind and his environment.

We have come to a point where sustainable architecture is not just a choice. In fact, it is our only choice.

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