Sustainable Architecture And Environmental Design On World Environment Day (5th June)

Today marks World Environment Day, an annual celebration that has been going on since 1974 to help raise awareness and to ply pressure for more action to be taken on pressing environmental issues. The day has become more visible year upon year, and nowadays it uses governments, renowned public figures, scientists and even celebrities to amplify the message for a greener future. Ultimately, it helps drive meaningful change, guiding individuals and groups alike towards the adoption of more sustainable practices across a whole host of sectors. Given the alarmingly acute nature of the global climate crisis, the work that this day does is wholly needed. The team here at Munday + Cramer wanted to look at how architecture is incorporating greener environmental design into their work.

The architectural world takes on a particularly increased proportion of this need for change. This is because buildings are amongst the biggest energy consumers, globally, consuming around 40% of energy, and this is why it’s such a priority.

What Does Environmental Design Entail?

There are a myriad number of ways in which architectural projects can be made more sustainable. These improvements may come in the form of the construction techniques involved in the project, itself, or in the features installed within the project for its use upon completion. Our practice’s head of environmental design, Stuart Cudmore, had this to say about sustainable architecture:

The need for greater sustainability has shaped the industry more than anything else over the past few years. Our practice constantly looks for innovative ways in which our designs and delivery of projects can be made more efficient.

The three steps of the energy hierarchy used in environmental design.

In practical terms, then, what does sustainable architecture involve? Well, any actions that are taken must revolve around the three steps of the energy hierarchy. Step 1 dictates that we look to reduce energy demand and consumption. Step 2 centres around the idea of improving energy efficiency. Finally, we should try and source any remaining energy needs from zero/low-carbon resources, this is step 3.

Examples of sustainable architecture and environmental design might include:

Green Roofs

These roofs, often also known as living roofs, are those that are covered (either fully or a large part, at least) with vegetation and foliage. The benefits of green roofs are that they encourage greater biodiversity (something especially important in urban settings), they provide a buffer to rainwater, slowing down runoff and reducing the risk of flooding. Finally, they make economic sense as they provide a great form of thermal insulation, thus reducing energy costs. Green roofs also have the added benefit of looking very aesthetically pleasing, they depict a marriage between form, function and the wider environment in a way that few other architectural structural features can replicate.

Utilising Recycled Materials

Nowadays, recycling is one of the most widely-known and widely-used ways in which we can lead more environmentally-conscious lives. What fewer people are aware of, however, is how recycled materials are now beginning to be used in architecture and construction. An increasing number of projects are now looking to utilise such materials both externally and internally. Looking indoors, for example, there are now companies producing carpeting made from 100%-recycled plastic content. Taking a more structural lens for a second, and we’ll see that using steel in the production of buildings not only helps create something strong and durable, but something that’s sustainable as well. It’s the most recycled material in the world with around 99% of structural steel being recycled or re-used when a building is demolished. As building materials go, then, steel makes a lot of sense.

It’s worth noting that there are other environmental credentials beyond simply recycling that are borne into consideration when selecting materials for a project from a sustainability perspective. Looking at the quantity of encapsulated carbon within a material, for example, is important. Sometimes materials that seem ostensibly to be the ‘greenest’ have higher levels of encapsulated carbon than those we’d associate as being environmentally ‘unfriendly’. In addition, the construction industry often looks at the source location of their building materials. Locally produced bricks, for instance, may be made more sustainably and have the benefit of reduced transport emissions.

Harvesting Rainwater

Issues surrounding water (its shortage and its wastage) are amongst the most urgent environmental problems faced globally. These problems affect all sectors, both corporate and domestic. The benefits of rainwater harvesting systems are manifold and include:

  • A reduction in flood-risk due to reduced surface runoff.
  • Economic benefits from a diminished water-supply bill.
  • It reduces the amount of water that the water company has to treat and pump, thus saving energy.
  • If the harvesting system is a potable (drinkable) one, then the water you’re collecting has zero hardness. This means that scale won’t build up on domestic appliances.

Future Technologies

New, innovative technologies are being designed all the time to improve energy efficiency. The architectural world has never been one to rest on its laurels. It recognises the need to keep pushing further in order to eke out every last drop of energy efficiency possible. The impetus has been placed on the sector to push towards zero-energy buildings; below are a couple of examples of what we might be seeing a lot more of in the future.

Photovoltaic Glazing

This is an emerging technology that could potentially revolutionise energy efficiency. In layman’s terms, this is glazing that features electricity-generating capabilities that work in the same way as solar panels. Initial experiments and simulations have shown that PV glazing could result in an annual reduction of up to 28% in electricity used for cooling (air-conditioning being the most common form). This self-sufficient energy production will also help lead to significant reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).

Artificial Intelligence

In recent years, AI has looked to shake the association with futuristic science fiction. Instead, it has sought to replace it with one of real-world practical technologies. AI developers are already working on technologies that could be integrated with domestic virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, for example, to help optimise our energy usage at home, creating a profile from which we can determine where energy is being wasted. This technology also holds potential economic benefits as well; such integrated energy management systems could be used to help appliances run at times when electricity will be cheaper.

Large strides are being taken in the architectural world to ensure that the sector’s future is a greener one. The situation is urgent but so too has been the corresponding industry action, and long may that continue! So, if you’d like to find out more about our environmental design services, then get in touch! If you want to find out more about World Environment Day, then visit their website! Contact Munday + Cramer today on 01245 326 200.