What Is Sustainability In Architecture | Is It A Myth?

Updated: Oct 1

What is sustainability in architecture | Is it a myth?
What is sustainability in architecture | Is it a myth? © Vincent Callebaut Architectures

Sustainability is the ability that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Applying this concept to architecture refers to the practice of designing buildings that create living environments that work to minimize energy consumption & human use of resources. The construction materials, design, methods & use of resources, including heating, cooling, power, and wastewater treatment, reflect sustainable architecture. The concept is that structures aim to provide healthy environments, improve the quality of life, and avoid the production of waste to preserve the long-term survivability, energy & resource efficiency of the human species. Sometime before, the term sustainable architecture was known as solar architecture, as the idea was not to build in the shape of design & waste management but in capturing solar energy to satisfy the need for energy consumption. But eventually, it expanded its scope to water usage, climate control, air purification, wastewater treatment, and overall energy efficiency. In the constant phase of time, urban society has seen a rapid increase in demand for settlement. Due to the growth of new habitats, natural resources are consumed more frequently & daily usage increases. Our earth has limited space & resources that are incompatible with urbanization. It is now necessary to strike a delicate balance between the form, function, and interactions of a building with its surroundings to qualify as sustainable. This concept is needed to utilize new & old architectures in accompanying social, economic & environmental welfare. Yet, in the midst of all of these sustainable needs of the hour, are we following them? There are many ways we can incorporate these practices into our daily lifestyle. If yes, then how? Can we find sustainability in architecture in our daily lives?

Elements of green architecture in Comcast Technology Center Philadelphia
Elements of green architecture in Comcast Technology Center Philadelphia © Foster & Partners

Exterior of a carbon-neutral commercial building in Sydney
Exterior of a carbon-neutral commercial building in Sydney © Romello Pereira/Smart Design Studio

A very legitimate question arises here. When we explain sustainability in architecture, we ask: how come architecture fulfills our needs? What is the purpose behind it? The primary purpose of architecture is to improve the quality of human life. In addition to fulfilling a necessity of society & individuals as far as places to live or work is concerned, it also has the potential to create a more serene and happier environment. It is a notion of deriving from nature & encaptivating the life & freedom within the structure. Well, the purpose of architecture does not hold only for utility. It is also used as a symbol to signify power, memorize an event, or depict the money & culture of a particular era. It has high complexities & for that, the architects prefer building a model. These architectural models are built for visualization purposes to understand the space & mass concerning surroundings & its users. These models act as a design tool to understand the principles of volume & proportion. Now, the crucial task is to encourage sustainable behavior with the requirements of architecture. The fundamental gap encountered is the knowledge of the environment & its behavior. It could be understood when you live in sync with the outside environment. Buildings that don't use air conditioners but construct in the form to ventilate with the natural environment or better daylight design will encourage users to use less artificial light. The design aesthetics allow the users to take up some healthy options of physical activity & more human interaction leads to the more necessity of such structures. These structures are in themselves challenging for an architect to design & develop. The architects take the site landscape, energy management, and stormwater management into consideration when planning & then use environmentally friendly systems and building materials during construction. They create buildings that require less land development, use more environmentally friendly natural materials, and are more energy-efficient. It involves utilizing active & passive techniques based on fewer energy needs, even generating its energy. This conscious approach is necessary for energy saving & ecological concerns. Let us take an example of the importance of sustainability in architecture & how architects can develop it. Say, in your locality, the land acquired for building a complex & there is a plantation of 100 trees. Whether you feel it now or not, it's a concern in the future. So, it considered whether there is a possibility to build it somewhere else & if not, then architects take environmental factors into account regarding land. Like, how you can develop your space without any cutting. Can it be done with minimum wastage? Or to entirely shift the plantation to a new place instead.

Building material for energy efficiency
Building material for energy efficiency © The Constructor

When we talk about sustainability in architecture, we are not confident about how well it goes. There cannot be a single structure that delivers 100% sustainability & its energy emission is net zero. It solely depends upon the locality, its resources & skills to build. Over the next 50 years, the region should not exhaust its resources. In a limited number of years, the environment must not be able to break down its byproducts. To measure sustainability and to enhance the architectural model, the parameters could be renewable energy generated on-site, use of off-site electricity generated from fossil fuels, water utilization, material used approach(3 R), the resilience of the building & more. The ability of the building to sustain against extreme climate conditions & resource utilization as per carrying capacity for long-term basis is required. Using indigenous technology reduces cost-effectiveness & is best suited to the natural surroundings of that region. It involves the usage of limited resources & produces minimum waste. The 3R for using the product & its leftovers within the cycle again & again without harnessing resources reduces the pollution. It deduces that a sustainable building must fulfill the approach of material, design & technique as the crucial characteristics. As society moves forward in this direction, some obstacles act as the challenges like conservation & greenery. The community is confused with greenness & sustainability while it is just a part of conservation, not the whole. We need to involve its aspects definitely but, it is more than that. Predetermined notions of people also hamper compliance. This fear of bringing a change in society that will ultimately lead to a better life but affect the present for some time is efficient for the long run. The economic concern is one crucial factor that counts for substantial investment for the human race. People need to understand that this process is more cost-effective & healthy, which leads to better quality & intuitiveness of life. This field needs to be studied in the balance of ecology as poor design costs more & destroys the essence & value of sustainability. Finally, there is ignorance of the past architecture & heritage constructed with nature-centric principles & tied to pure sustainability. We, humans, tend to forget the great of ancient times & afraid of lifestyle changes, but that is what sustainability in architecture requires. The time has come when we need to look back & ahead of us to design & accumulate ourselves with it.

Among the best sustainability in architecture right now are shows in The Edge in the Netherlands & David & Lucile Packard Foundation Headquarters in California, certified as the largest net-zero emission building worldwide. This building is 95% recycled and has 915 photovoltaic cells on the roof. Roof gutters on this building collect over 20,000 gallons of rainwater each day, primarily used for irrigation and bathrooms. The Dixon water foundation Joset Pavillion in the United States & SunCarrier Omega solar-powered building in India are other examples of great architectures. The subcarrier is a self-sustaining wonder in itself. The complex runs entirely off the grid using nothing but the energy beamed by the lone star of the solar system.

Every country in the world is best suited for sustainable architecture based on its resources, landscapes & policies like climatic conditions, freshwater, oil & natural gas, natural vegetation, or forests. But as per some guidelines based on various factors, the eminent countries are the US, Canada, China, India, Brazil, Germany & some more. With the increase in demand for housing & sustainability, the future holds the golden pathway for this architecture. From saving the natural resources or living in constant touch with the environment inside the building to the generation of self-sufficient energy needs, the goal will lead to a net-zero carbon footprint on the planet.

Dixon Water Foundation Project with a great solution for water treatment and purification system
Dixon Water Foundation Project with a great solution for water treatment and purification system © Archdaily

Smart Glass Windows
Smart Glass Windows © Intelligent Glass

In addition to conventional building methods, green architecture utilizes sustainable design practices. It is a concept solely focused upon the environment that takes incremental steps towards environmental sustainability. The green building design practice includes the aspects of energy efficiency, renewable sources such as wind, water, or solar, implementing natural ventilation systems, and construction materials that minimize the carbon footprint as an effort towards sustainability. So, how is green architecture different from sustainable architecture? Well, green building is not necessarily always sustainable. The term sustainable encompasses all of its three pillars; people, planet & profit, providing a productive & healthy environment over the long haul without compromising the environment. The concept of green architecture further involves site planning, land use planning issues & community harmony in addition. The growth & development of the communities impacts the natural environment on a certain level. During the construction, design, operation, and processes of a building, natural resources are depleted and an accountable management system is required. Whenever a green building is planned, it consists of a renewable source like solar, wind, or hydro method for energy demand, efficient water resources, adaptive design for changing environment & utilization of green roofs. To enhance its capacity to become more sustainable, it uses non-toxic, low-impact, and ethical materials that reduce waste & pollution with more reusable capabilities. Once a building is in functional form, it attributes some characteristics that help in determining its utility. Some of them are indoor environmental quality about the cleanliness & noise pollution, design innovation, location & transport, whether it sits in an environmentally sensitive zone or its sustainable ties. One such building is Beitou Public Library, Taipei, Taiwan utilizing energy with innovative large windows & roof covered with greenery providing water through a retention system. These buildings strive to reduce their CO2 levels by reducing energy wastage, opting for LED lighting & improving the health of the building by doing air quality monitoring regularly.

Green Architecture of Parkroyal Collection Singapore
Green Architecture of Parkroyal Collection Singapore © Tripadvisor

Roof layers to be considered for sustainable architecture
Roof layers to be considered for sustainable architecture © EPA. Gov

When society progresses with green architectural models, it tends to have an enormous positive impact. From an environmental point of view, it enhances and protects biodiversity and ecosystems with improved air and water quality, reducing waste streams & conserving and restoring natural resources. Efficient & sustainable material improves the overall quality of life by using recycled material and reusing resources. Sustainable architects, engineers, and green designers are tapping into existing resources to reduce carbon footprints and save natural resources. It minimizes strain on local utility infrastructure by accessing local technology enhancing occupant health & comfort. The green design techniques also incorporate economic aspects from a side angle. It provides immense durability that not only endure for years exposed to the elements but require much less maintenance & optimize life-cycle performance while reducing costs. These buildings need to pass certain rating levels to certify themselves as green architecture. As a result, there is a need to conserve soil and topsoil upfront. Optimizing building design and structure with an enhanced indoor environment (air quality & thermal quality) helps to reduce conventional energy consumption. This list goes on. Can these new building designs build on the existing ones? It is impossible to alter the materials or layout of an already erected structure. The effective treatment of wastewater, along with composting and energy generation, can be used to convert existing buildings into green ones. Combine them with renewable energy sources to generate on-site energy. Most buildings in the early 1900s were greener in terms of indoor climate, ventilation, and transportation, and materials were local, better adapted, and produced less waste. In the modernization phase, we have entirely left the touch of it & now in constant efforts of reacquiring that foundation with modern ways. There are several reasons for the slow pace of growth of the movement, including cost, structural resistance, lack of expertise and research, lack of funding, and perceptions of trade-offs between sustainability and quality. Talking about green architecture, India with rich culture & heritage, also being the best sustainability in architecture society in its past. Taking guidance from its ancient experience has developed a ton of green architectural marvels. One such building is Suzlon One Earth Campus, Pune - the greenest building in India, with a 7% consumption of energy on-site from hybrid wind turbines, solar panels & photovoltaic cells, and 93% from off-site wind turbines. Another noteworthy feature is the landscaping with very efficient water management systems & reflective pools form the main feature of the landscape design, adding to the natural beauty of the campus, creating a cool microclimate in the surrounding structures.

CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre, Hyderabad
CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre, Hyderabad

Components for sustainability in architecture: Design & Management.

All around the globe, practices & technology play a crucial role in the power shifting towards sustainable development, made by continual efforts by initiatives in environmental factors to strive towards the fundamental principles of sustainability. The methodology derived from the interest in energy-saving, space efficiency, structural design efficiency, water resources & techniques, material selection, indoor environment quality, & waste reduction has put sustainable design practices as the leading edge for industries & residential constructions. Today, after realizing the need for green development, the outcomes are seen as a culmination of these principles. The urgent need to reduce the impact on the environment with proper design & techniques also tends to increase the life cycle of the building. The notion is to design it with the natural features & resources in that region.

Structural design Efficiency: A Crucial step to sustainability in architecture.

Any architecture relies on the site selection, planning & design stages that incorporate the structural integrity of the building. In terms of consolidated energy of structural materials, durability, design flexibility, and demolition, these structural designs can significantly contribute to overall sustainability. This development stage plays a vital role in determining the life cycle of the building that has a profound impact on the cost & performance. The purpose is to bring more sustainability in architecture, aiming to reduce raw material requirements and energy use. The objective is always to minimize the environmental impact, energy use, and other sustainability issues. It is possible to do so by cutting the material used, material production energy, embodied energy and maximizing structural system reuse. The process begins by obtaining the site depending upon various climatic factors like location of the site, macro & microclimate of the place. Then comes the topography of the site assimilating all the natural elements present there. These factors are analyzed & then taken into consideration while finalizing the orientation & form of the building. The size & orientation of the opening depends upon the direction to construct shades or chajjas over there. These design aesthetics are technical, but you can always add your pinch of taste of your choice & comfort that combines with the ongoing process. Diving deep into that calls for thoughtful design strategies that enhance durability & flexibility, having open floor plans with planning for future additions. An open floor plan will employ removable partitions that also avoid bearing walls. The ability to reconfigure wall partitions without undergoing structural rebuilding will advance structural reuse during user changes. Once the structure completes, to determine the efficiency, we use parameters like agricultural potentiality of the land, the contour of the site with the building costs, distance from places of work, transport facilities, velocity & wind direction. Then this location, orientation, and landscaping of a building all affect local ecosystems & energy utilization.

According to the WBDG Sustainable Committee, “The site of a sustainable building should reduce, control, and/or treat storm-water runoff. If possible, strive to support native flora and fauna of the region in the landscape design.”

Light frame wood construction
Light frame wood construction © Archdaily

Bring Sustainability in architecture through energy consumption.

Improving the energy performance of new & existing buildings is imperative to increase our energy independence. It is a major component to fulfill sustainability in architecture and can be accomplished in many ways. Some of the ways are: deploying renewable energy sources like solar and wind power or shifting to energy-efficient equipment. In a system, the energy required is primarily extracted, processed, transported & then used for operating in a building, leading to losses. By implementing net-zero energy buildings, we can significantly reduce our reliance on fossil fuel-derived energy. An alarming fact is that 50% of the energy produced in conventional buildings is lost. Here, 60% in heating & around 30% drained by electrical appliances in households where the use of electricity in facilities is much higher in countries in transition than in developed countries. Contrary, a sustainable building uses less energy & may make up to 30% of overall life cycle energy consumption. Before jumping to the higher level reduction measures, we should apply some in our daily life, like reducing dependence on the air conditioning or other power-hungry systems, relying more on natural lighting, and simply turning off lights when not in use. When we talk about scaling our measures, designers use high-performance windows and extra insulation in walls & ceilings based on the correct choice of the shape of the building, the position, and the size of the window. Another strategy is passive solar building design, which often appears in low-energy homes. A proper choice of building orientation and position for windows, walls, and trees to shade roofs during the summer helps conserve energy while increasing heat gains in the winter. In addition, effective daylighting can provide more natural light and reduce the need for electric lighting during the day. Apart from the design & optimization, it is utterly required to generate at least 30%-40% energy on-site. The energy-efficient structures are passive solar architecture & renewable energy resources like solar, wind, or the latest helical turbine methods. We know about solar panels, but passive solar architecture does not require hefty systems or maintenance & indirectly uses solar radiation. Two ways to use passive systems are wall systems with a collector function where large refractive windows provide for collecting & trapping the solar rays. While in others, it is more like a greenhouse system that insulates the structure & captures the heat for water management systems. These methods are applicable for particular task fulfilment & aid the broader procedure for better efficiency. In an energy-efficient building, power generation is the most expensive component. But in the long run, it is an economical and sustainable feature. One can easily achieve sustainability in architecture through this key step.

Pacific Design for sustainability
Pacific Design for sustainability © Metal Architecture

Design layout for different components for sustainable architecture
Design layout for different components for sustainable architecture © Architizer

Getting sustainability in architecture through appropriate water resources.

Freshwater resources in the world are increasingly becoming a scarcity. The excessive use of water from surface and underground sources has led to a deficiency in this precious resource. The climatic changes have reduced the extent of rainfall in many parts of the world, thus resulting in either droughts or floods but not sufficient precipitation. It reminds us of reducing water consumption and protecting water quality as the key objectives in sustainable building. Around the globe, the availability of freshwater resources for drinking purposes is falling short and is unable to meet the ever-increasing demand for water supply. It exceeds more than the natural aquifers can give in a period. To the maximum extent feasible, facilities should encourage the reuse of reclaimed water on on-site projects when possible & utilize collected & purified water. Reducing wastewater can help in optimizing the system efficiency & enhancing financial benefits. Various water efficiency measures like low-flow fixtures in showerheads, non-potable water for irrigation applications & dual plumbing in toilets reduce water waste, reduce energy use & yielding lower sewage problems. While we have discussed the interior solutions for more efficient living, we can also use efficient exterior methods such as sustainable landscaping, drip irrigation systems, and xeriscaping. The landscaping method is the one that goes by its name where trees are selected based on their grounds as shading purposes where trees act as windbreakers. Using rain gardens and wetlands can reduce stormwater runoff by reusing wastewater and reusing it for filtration. Xeriscaping also aids in water management using this methodology. This term deals with dry entities that use the land to cover with landscaping that utilizes less water. The procedure of selection of plants is such that it should provide beauty and enhance the aesthetic appeal of the place following, the principle of water efficiency is our principal objective. And the most common way is stormwater reuse through methods like rainwater harvesting, soakaways, infiltration ponds & swales. These crucial ingredients are somewhat helpful steps to find sustainability in architecture.

Sustainable Water Management
Sustainable Water Management © Create Digital

Water management
Water management © Tetra Tech

Use Of Hedges to lead sustainability in architecture.

In the past, hedgerows served as a marker of the boundary and a barrier to prevent livestock from moving around. The mid-1900s saw some English hedgerows destroyed, notes Marrington. Hedgerows were ploughed under during the Second World War so that large fields could become available to help feed the people and feed the nation. They can also help protect the environment from climate change by storing 600 to 800 kilograms (1323 to 1764 pounds) of carbon dioxide each year for up to 20 years. You might wonder, what is a hedge. They are woodland edge habitat strips. There are many varieties of them. It ranges from closely cultivated scraggy hawthorn bushes, sparse in wildlife, to dense bushes tangled with dog rose, bramble, and honeysuckle, topped by mature trees. Many isolated patches of habitat fragmented across the landscape have been bound together by thick, flora-rich hedges, which provide valuable nesting and food-gathering opportunities for wildlife. For birds such as yellowhammers, whitethroats, blue tit, and great tits, it provides nesting posts, shelter, and nesting sites, while nectar, berries, and nuts provide food for an assortment of invertebrates, mammals, and birds. On arable land, hedges can reduce soil erosion and water runoff. They provide excellent wildlife habitats. In addition, the substantial root structures of trees and hedges on farmland also stabilize the soil. Hawthorn, Seabuckthorn, crab apple, and wild cherry are some plants that can serve as hedgerow plants and trees. They can contribute as a crucial element of sustainability in architecture. We can use it in modern homes departing our surroundings. Furthermore, hedgerows can protect the boundaries of highways and international roads, providing sustainable development. We can also use them in our gardens as a component of an essential wildlife source. With hedgerows as the future of sustainable development, we can also beautify our public spaces.

Hedges on a private property
Hedges on a private property © Saksham Gupta / Unsplash

Material selection & optimize building space: Find Sustainability in architecture.

The proper management and use of materials in construction is also another huge concern. As the population grows, the use of natural resources continues to increase. Reusing materials productively and sustainably across their entire life cycle is a concern of material efficiency. Good thermal performance, energy efficiency, water efficiency, and conservation of resources are the aspects assimilated in the designs to guarantee overall material efficiency. Sustainable materials reduce global warming, resource depletion & environmental toxicity. A few of the properties of these materials include durability, renewable materials, non-toxic properties, and ease of manufacture. Among the materials available are lumber, bamboo, straw, dimension stone, recycled stone, hempcrete, recycled metal, etc. During the construction of a building, bio-climate architecture is a theory of design that dramatically enhances material efficiency. Suppose a residence is built based on geography where light is refracting from a particular angle that helps in ventilation. Here, you won't have to use windows over to that side of energy-efficient higher quality glazing, use those windows to the side where the sun heat is more. These methods best utilize your cost & longevity based on climatic conditions. Then comes a curious question, what should be the characteristics while selecting a material? For starters, it should be non-toxic & locally available material as our priority is the environment & minimizing transportation costs without interfering with the local ecology. It could be a reusable, recycled, refurbished or remanufactured material with sufficient durability & moisture-resistant efficiency. Moisture-resistant materials are the ones that prevent the growth of biological contaminants in buildings & highly preferred in green architectures.

While designing architecture based on material, another aspect of space efficiency incorporates it, becoming a key component in sustainable building design. Through daylight introduction, interior daylighting increases. It requires an open floor plan to avoid blocking areas off from exterior windows to ensure a direct line of sight. Improving space efficiency by supporting more efficient underfloor systems helps in overall designing & optimizing spaces. They can help achieve sustainability in architecture.

Use of chemical-free materials by Google for a healthy workspace
Use of chemical-free materials by Google for a healthy workspace © sustainability. Google

Sustainable Construction with the use of Bamboo
Sustainable Construction with the use of Bamboo © The Notebook Club

Sustainability in architecture By Waste reduction.

Green architecture demands reducing the wastage of water, energy, and materials during and after construction directly minimizes the negative environmental impact. Reusing and reconfiguring any product reduces waste because less material is required to reconfigure or accommodate it for future changes. One goal is to reduce the amount of consumer product wastage that goes to landfills & minimized it through the integration of on-site solutions like composite bins and eco-friendly waste management systems. Once the building lifetime completes, the debris is hauled majorly to the landfills, which contain toxicants contaminating the land permanently. Utilizing suitable building materials and disposing of waste wisely can reduce it. Materials explained in the upper material section can be used for extending the life of the structure, leading to a reduction in waste & fewer toxicants afterlife. The other characteristic of material should be the quality so, less chance of replacements required and waste ending up in a landfill. Another way round, opt for products having minimal packaging to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals like lead, chromium, nickel, etc. It helps spread the importance of product quality and longevity among those designing sustainable buildings. While constructing a waste converting system, it also takes care of water recycling and energy-saving approaches to reduce water and energy wastage. One such method is to convert organic human waste into fertilizers reducing waste & enhancing organic nutrients in the soil.

House in Chile, built using maritime shipping containers and wood pallets
House in Chile, built using maritime shipping containers and wood pallets © Design Milk

A comparison chart to highlight the growth of the waste sector in the UK
A comparison chart to highlight the growth of the waste sector in the UK © Bloomberg

Indoor Environmental Quality: Herd sustainability in architecture.

The indoor environmental quality (IEQ) has a significant impact on occupants & involves the features of a comfortable interior space focusing on thermal comfort, proper ventilation, pleasant acoustic conditions, and the use of products that do not give off toxic compounds or gases. So, simply one can understand it as the internal conditions of the building that are suitable for all the people there. Other functional aspects are maximizing daylighting & reducing the use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) while focusing on temperature or air quality alone for the increased satisfaction of the occupants. The purpose of the principle is to assure the quality of IEQ for improved productivity & health. To improve the IEQ of the workplace there are various techniques to apply like adequate ventilation & exhaust, air monitoring system, building commissioning & more. Cleanliness is about removing dirt and contaminants from a building while using less toxic materials. The initiation of the process from the construction can threaten the indoor air quality & can be reduced by flushing out toxins before occupancy and using construction materials low in harmful VOCs. It leads to the cleaning that removes pathogens, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. It refers to procedures that minimize deteriorating effects fulfilling the goal to wideout adverse effects on the built environment and its occupants. The most important aspect of enhancing IEQ is choosing materials that are low in VOCs. It's the toxicity found within products like paints, adhesives, cleaners, particleboard, etc harming the air quality by releasing in the air. Another measure is the control of moisture accumulation that, in the presence of bacteria & viruses, creates mites growth over surfaces and microbiological concerns. The internal aspect of air quality has an uncountable number of elements to take care of & plays the most crucial role after sustainability in architecture development. Hence, through the above-defined step guide, one can find sustainability in architecture.

Designing for a better air quality
Designing for a better air quality © Adam Mørk. Image C.F. Møller Architects

Delos headquarters in New York City features more than 20 Naavas for environmental sustainability
Delos headquarters in New York City features more than 20 Naavas for environmental sustainability © Miguel De Guzman, Imagesubliminal

Case Study of people living sustainably.

Kerala couple living sustainably for 9 years.

A couple from Kerala's Kannur district lived in their eco-friendly mud house for over nine years, which they built inside a 34-acre forest that they grew from scratch. Hari & Asha, are the builders of their lush green sustainable home, where Hari is a retired employee of the Kerala water authority & Asha works for natural farming methods. The couple decided to build their mud house right after their marriage, a dream of Asha for a long time. The name of their home is Nanavu, which means moisture & it took them around four lakhs rupees of all building costs for 1 BHK. Despite containing all the amenities of a typical home, it does not have the ones sourced sustainably, uses a lot of energy & emits harmful CFCs. They have used earthen pots for cooling & storage purposes within the floor, which have additional benefits of maintaining nutrients & temperature based on the environment. In an interview, Asha said, "The moisture from the soil will ensure that the pot is at around 10 degrees, and this helps the food stay fresh. The cooler will not function if there is no moisture in the sand". We will be able to see simplicity through sustainability in architecture.

The founding building material for their mud house comes deep from the ground mixed with straw, fern stalk & water. Nanavu is constructed on 960 sq feet of land in a little over ten days & uses solidified techniques to build its sustainable walls. They have been greatly benefiting from the mud walls that absorb moisture & cool down the home without any requirement of coolers or fans. To build the structure, they took woods & bamboo from the forest itself in the most conservative ways & for paints, they took pigment from tree bark. It behaves as a natural color with great aroma & permeability properties strengthening the walls. For setting up the energy needs, Hari said, "Any kind of electricity derived by harming the environment - such as hydropower projects, nuclear fission and damming of rivers is unsustainable. It is better if we can produce the energy ourselves,". It leads the couple to set up a 1.15-kilowatt rooftop solar panel and a biogas plant covering most of their electricity needs. The biogas plant turns all kinds of organic waste, including fecal waste, into biogas & then utilizes it as fuel for gas stoves & remaining slurry as the manure for their crop production. By building everything from a minimal point of view, their electricity needs came down to just four units a day compared to 50 -60 units a day for comparable houses in cities containing amenities such as a television, a computer, and electric kitchen equipment like mixers. For a self-sufficient living, they simultaneously grow their food on the 34 acres of agricultural land in surplus amounts, aiming to zero budget natural farming without using any pesticides or fertilizers under the expertise of Asha. "What we do here is also very close to zero budget farming. We use negligible levels of fertilizers such as cow dung and the biogas slurry if necessary. We let the plants and fruit grow naturally & as a result, it tastes better," she adds. It is an excellent example of sustainability in architecture.

Hari And Asha the owners of sustainable Kannur House
Hari And Asha the owners of sustainable Kannur House © The Better India

Eco friendly Kannur Home
Eco friendly Kannur Home © The Better India

A Home in Ghaziabad That Works With Nature.

Another example of sustainability in architecture comes from north India's long-established historic architecture that provides cool indoor climatic conditions to its occupants using passive and natural cooling methods. Inspired by Rajasthan’s ‘Baolis’ for cooler microclimate around the structure & producing net-zero emission homes using design principles of ‘cantilever home.’ The house was conceived taking into consideration of solar radiations & climatic conditions during days & different seasons. It responds to the dry & hot climate in the region & ensures enough daylight in the living areas with a passive cooling technique for private spaces. The design mechanism & resource consumption is such that it has a minimal impact on the environment & provides thermal comfort like it only needs fans during peak summer. The bedrooms are optimized by an e-coating of thermal mass, not requiring any appliance at night & it does not affect the daylight area. The frontal area of the home is clad with glass that is double glazed for thermal resistance & acts as a transition between outdoors & ambient indoors. To improve indoor environmental quality (IEQ), plants in the shape of a vertical garden purify the trapping dust, pollution & air while a water court in the front of the home behaves as a heat sink that works in sync with indoor & outdoor plants. For adequate rainwater harvesting, the lawn area helps retain water & water court as a discharge pit flowing to the underground storage. And, for the least to fulfill the hot water necessity, the home uses a solar hot water system constituting zero energy needs from the grid.

A shot of sitting space in an eco-friendly House of Ghaziabad
A shot of sitting space in an eco-friendly House of Ghaziabad © Andre J Fanthome

The traditional Jaali work contributes to proper air ventilation and the light to enter the living space
The traditional Jaali work contributes to proper air ventilation and the light to enter the living space

How to make your current home sustainable?

It is comparatively easy to build a new sustainable home given the expertise & awareness present in the current scenario. But, the major challenge comes from the existing ones, where practically nothing can be demolished for the sake of sustainability in architecture. So, we created a procedural technique; suitable for any home or place to convert into a more eco-friendly living. We call it The Brick Technique. Let's dive right into it and learn more.

Step 1: Whitewash your walls to recreate them into sustainable.

Walls play a crucial role in determining inner climatic conditions, and adding double insulation on them with less dense material, helps in doing it. Additionally, you can paint them with natural colors like sandalwood or ochrea - a natural pigment from the bark of trees. They also have a substantial impact on your home odour & sense of visibility.

Step 2: Working on your Floorings.

Try to replace your granite or other heavy stones with less dense marbles, as they are more environmentally friendly.

Step 3: Reduce the Consumption of available resources.

Replace all your high-energy utilizing products with energy-efficient appliances like LEDs, air conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, and ceiling fans with ENERGY STAR certification.

Step 4: All your taps need a makeover.

To consume less water, low-flow faucets, and showerheads fulfill your need more consciously.

Step 5: Focus on the Production of resources.

Yes, you get it right, you need to install some renewable source of electricity, like the solar panels are sufficient for your daily supplies even in the most up and down of weather.

Step 6: The key to solving any problem starts in your kitchen.

Utilize your kitchen organic waste and leftovers to turn them into compost. This compost can serve as perfect manure for your garden or nearby land to become more organic-rich soil, which has profound benefits.

Step 7: Transforming your internal accessories and changing the design landscape.

Doing some design changes during the renovation of your home allows more natural light to come in with better cross-ventilation, and it helps kill the bugs or mites present inside. It also reduces the toxic components with more fresh air without suffocation. Like, you can use light-colored netted curtains that pass more light.

Step 8: The old is gold.

Use more sustainable or recycled furniture. If you are not money savvy, you can opt for furniture made from renewable sources that are non-toxic, while if you want something for less, go for eco-friendly recycled furniture.

Step 9: Don't forget the beautiful plants.

Grow indoor plants to enhance the sustainable effect and provide natural air purification. They work better in conjugation with other eco-friendly aspects of the home & also act as mood enhancer.

Step 10: Measuring your consumption & efficiency.

Use Smart meters for better control and efficiency. It works with the other appliances in the home and optimizes them as peruse rather than using them irrationally. They also have a measuring technique that keeps the detail of your energy production & its exact usage. It will help you further down the road to optimize those appliances or in need to change them.

Conclusion | Is sustainability in architecture a myth?

A photograph of a modern house with an elevation and below that, environmental elements
A photograph of a modern house with an elevation and below that, environmental elements © Architizer

In this article, we have broadly discussed sustainable or green architecture & its guiding principles. Still, we are not exactly on the path or that pace to creating a sustainable neighbourhood. There might be many reasons, but we would like to consider the foremost that becomes the hurdles or misconceptions for a broad group of people. For the past few decades, the only concern is the development which indirectly comes from the expense of the environment. So, it became the notion that sustainability is all about the environment. In the meantime, with advancements in systems & different adaptations concerning the environment, health, and economy, certain myths develop within society as:

  • Only green is sustainable. Not the other pillars of it.

  • It is too expensive. This procedure & adaptation is only for riches.

  • The measuring account is, only recyclable. The assumption of rapid recycling will aid in sustainability.

  • It's because of the population else we have a huge amount of resources.

  • This process takes too much time, and can't bring results in less time.

  • The use of methodologies to reduce only carbon emissions can help in reducing global warming.

  • Not supporting an individual taking initiative, thinking nothing will change.

  • New technology can resolve all the issues.

  • Taking it to a far extent without prior knowledge, suggestions were made to become vegan.

  • Compostable & biodegradable are alike, without knowing where residue leaves & where not.

There is no limit to the myths in society. But, it depends on every individual, how he reacts & starts working. We have tried to pin down all the aspects of sustainable architecture from its necessity of adaptation to the reasons pulling us behind.

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