We hear the phrase sustainable architecture thrown around, but what is it? What are we sustaining? Is “GREEN” related? What are the benefits of it? What does a sustainable architect do? I wish the answer was simple, and indeed it is.
Sustainable means to build or develop in a way that will let us keep doing it for a long period of time without adverse effects. If we overuse a material that is in short supply, it could cause us irreparable problems. For example, if our construction is heavily dependent on materials that use large amounts of water in their manufacturing and are being made in a region with a short supply of water, that could be a problem. If we design a tropical garden that requires constant and large amounts of water for it’s upkeep in a desert environment, that could also be a big problem.
Now that we have an ideal of what the problems are, lets take a look at how we can adjust the way we do things to be sustainable. Sustainable is not a concept that deals with individual aspects, but rather in a holistic way. If it makes common sense, it is generally sustainable. If you live in an area where masonry products are readily produced and available from local resources, it would probably make sense to use it in construction. It would also make sense to use local plants and groundcover materials instead of having them transported from China to the US. It would also make sense to use the local climate to your advantage. If you live in a cold climate, then maximizing natural solar heating through light would make sense. If you live in a very hot environment, then shading from hot sunlight would make sense to use in order to cool the structure and provide comfort and energy savings.
Sustainable also involves urban planning. Ask yourself: Would it make more sense to build a structure in a already developed area with existing roads and utilities, or perhaps even re-use an existing structure of start from scratch? Certainly most people with a functioning brain would say that starting with something is better then starting with nothing, yet we commonly see communities of so called “cookie cutter” homes which are utterly artificial and lifeless. If the development would focus on making the best with what already exists, re-using or adapting existing structures and neighborhoods, certainly the results would be amazing.