Sustainable building - RBA

How can architects contribute to building a sustainable world?

“Buildings and construction account for more than 35% of global final energy use and nearly 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions.” – UN Environment, Global Status Report 2017

The juxtaposition between building a sustainable future and sustainable buildings fit-for-the-future is certainly not lost on us. In fact, buildings are thought to consume 40% of the world’s energy, with 15% of the planet’s water supply consumed by residential and commercial constructions.

Yet, we cannot stop progressing with development and improvements to where we live and work. Rather, we need to find a solution to reduce the impact the structures we occupy have on the planet – be it an existing site, or completely new build.

For architects – and those in the wider construction industry – sustainable architecture is nothing new, but the EU’s sustainable development goals and Net Zero ambitions have certainly driven the urgency and accountability forwards.

From the off, one of the biggest challenges is the sheer amount of waste from construction – amounting to 32% of total landfill, and something we simply can’t sustain in the long-term.

While increases in landfill tax are being levied, one of the biggest considerations during design and planning should be around how to reduce impact during the construction phase, beyond the materials which form the building envelope.

The process of getting materials – and people – to site is a massive logistical challenge in itself, not least when we start to consider how to reduce the carbon impact of such a necessary element of the project. While electric vehicles could be used for ‘final mile’ delivery, importing items by sea or air has a lot to account for – so try to source locally, where possible.

When thinking about building design, it’s easy to focus on the aesthetics – the ‘look and feel’ of the space. But, the cornerstone of architecture is the way the building interacts with its environment – both in terms of users, and the physical space it occupies.

An energy efficient building, which also harnesses the elements it’s exposed to – solar power, natural light and ventilation, water reuse – is one which should be central to all sustainable designs, particularly when it comes to air circulation in large commercial or industrial buildings.

Architects also have a massive role to play in the way a building operates – and, in turn,  the way the building operates contributes directly to the amount of power it consumes to simply ‘exist’. Everything from the HVAC systems to wiring, lighting, and motorised features such as lifts/escalators will determine whether, over time, the building can operate sustainably.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Sustainable architecture centres around wastage during the construction process, finds new ways to use materials which would otherwise be removed from site and sent to landfill, and considers the entire lifecycle of the building – from concept and build, through to use and decommissioning.

What’s important to remember, is that when implementing sustainable architecture – be it new or old builds – there are accompanying environmental, economic, and social benefits to consider.

If you’re looking for support with your own project, read more about RBA’s sustainable architecture credentials, here.

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