The Role of the Architect in Sustainable Development

While some countries display little evidence of any concern for the future of the planet, most of the world’s citizens are aware that maintaining our present lifestyle will involve serious consequences, not just to humankind, but to all life on earth. We continue to consume our natural resources at a rate far greater than they can be replenished, while experiencing the visible consequences of endangered species and climate change. We have now reached that time when a more sustainable development policy is no longer just an option, but a vital necessity.

It is common practice to think of power generation and motor manufacturing as the greatest sources of pollution, given that they either consume or promote the consumption of vast quantities of fossil fuel accompanied by the release of equally vast quantities of greenhouse gas. In practice, however, research indicates that around 45% of carbon emissions are the product of the construction industry and the built environment. Clearly, this has highlighted the need for a more sustainable development policy within this sector. To implement it requires close collaboration between architects and builders.

The design of a building can play a major role in determining its need for and actual consumption of energy both during the construction process and upon occupation. An architect is at liberty to provide more than just a design concept and a set of blueprints and can, for example, also specify the use of particular building materials or climate control measures. The use in a new development of sustainable building materials, such as bamboo, to replace timber flooring or the steel mesh reinforcements in concrete is becoming popular, given that this extremely tough plant takes just six months to reach maturity, has the tensile strength of steel, and is more resistant to compression than concrete.

The use of solar panels to supplement the mains electricity supply and of heat exchangers to replace power-hungry conventional electric or gas-fired water heaters also makes good sense. Such options offer a greener and more economical way to maintain our modern style of indoor living, and are totally consistent with the goals of sustainable development.

A window provides an important source of ambient light, but it can also transmit heat into or out of a home or office. It can also reflect light that might affect other premises nearby. However, when a building’s fenestration requirements are carefully calculated by the architect, these tendencies can be managed and even used to your advantage.

Water is a threatened resource, and so, sustainable development measures often include rainwater and greywater catchment systems to provide water for irrigation and flushing toilets, or to replenish dwindling reserves of groundwater.