A Sustainable Architecture Wish List For 2015

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Image of SCAD Museum of Art Classroom Building, Courtesy of Lord Aeck Sargent. ( A version of this post was published on my LinkedIn profile)

Architects face or perceive several constraints to delivering sustainability on their projects, most notably the following, according to the results of a recent survey of sustainable design leaders in the US:

  • Established patterns/inertia
  • Getting the client’s buy-in
  • Project budget
  • Project schedule
  • Practicing integrated design

I would like to quote some of the recent criticisms against architects/architecture in the media to set the context for my wish list for sustainable architecture in 2015.

December 2014: “Reconnecting architecture with its users — rediscovering the radical middle, where we meet, listen and truly collaborate with the public, speak a common language and still advance the art of architecture — is long overdue.”

December 2011: “Today’s green architecture, the accomplishments of which are immensely admirable and hugely valuable as research, is only making things less unsustainable. To approach true sustainability will involve the embrace of very different modes of thought, and even of notions of reality.”

Assuming we can find ways to overcome the constraints and address the criticisms, here is my wish list for sustainable architecture in 2015 in terms of processes and issues:

Doing sustainable design on projects where it is not an explicit goal

Truly listening to the client/owner is requisite for converting their values into sustainable design goals on a project. This brilliant piece by BuildingGreen outlines 9 un-green strategies for delivering high-performance where “Green” isn’t even on the radar. To name a couple of strategies, “Ask questions first; draw later”, and “Find low-cost ways to fulfill green wishes”.

Meeting or exceeding the Architecture 2030 Challenge’s reduction target of 70% beginning 2015

The Architecture 2030 Challenge is a voluntary challenge adopted by several architecture firms. The idea is to gradually reduce the fossil fuel footprint of their designs so as to achieve carbon neutrality by the year 2030. In 2015, the reduction target, compared to the regional/national average for that building type, ratchets up from 60% to 70%. In 2020, it will become 80%.

In 2013, only 7.1% of the total gross square feet of projects voluntarily reported met the then 60% reduction target. The average reduction across all buildings reported was only 34%.

Imagine all projects reported from 2015 meeting the 70% reduction target, that would be quite a leap, wouldn’t it? A good mix of energy efficiency and on-site renewable energy production would be needed.

Designing for resilience

Imagine buildings that can withstand extreme weather events and maintain livable conditions during infrastructure disruptions. Strategies for designing resilient buildings and communities can include, to name a few:

Employing Biophilic Design

According to the recently released report by Terrapin Bright Green titled, “14 Patterns of Biophilic Design“, Biophilic Design that brings people closer to nature can reduce stress, enhance creativity and clarity of thought, improve our well-being and expedite healing.

Two of my favorite patterns are “5. Presence of Water” and “6. Dynamic & Diffuse Daylight”.

Buildings that promote occupant health

We spend 90% or more of our time indoors. See my November LinkedIn post titled “Green Building Meets Designing for Health” that addresses this issue in detail. Imagine all buildings designed in 2015 doing the following for their occupants:

  • Promote physical activity
  • Improve circadian rhythms
  • Employ healthy building materials

Did I capture everything you had in mind? Please add what I may have missed in your comments below.

Ramana Koti.