Sustainable Architecture: History, Characteristics, and Examples

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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A community’s growth and development directly impact its environment. Since there are limited non-renewable resources, architects focus on achieving sustainable architecture to favor environmental activities. They plan from the conceptual stage to the execution stage and the demolition of existing buildings to achieve a sustainable design.

Thus, a green building aims to increase resource efficiency, creating a positive social, economic, and environmental impact. Hop onto our article to discover more about sustainable architecture.

What Is Sustainable Architecture?

Sustainable Architecture

Image Credits: colorado.edu

Sustainable architecture is also called “green architecture,” and it is a way of designing that lessens the negative environmental impact by preserving natural resources, addressing user needs, and enhancing the quality of life. It utilizes energy and resources wisely and promotes the use of renewable energy. It considers the environment’s occupants during design and construction and uses sustainable or green features.

History Of Sustainable Architecture

After the 1970s energy crisis, architects desired to build enclosed glass and steel structures that required minimal heating and cooling systems. This form of architecture aimed to reduce the use of fossil fuels and increase dependence on clean, renewable energy sources. Additionally, university publications began to discuss sustainable architecture in the mid-1970s.

Later on, several homes and structures were designed and built in a way that favored sustainable architecture. But it was until the 1990s that “green architecture” emerged as a crucial architectural concept.

In 1994, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards were created, and they continue to be the gold standard for environmentally friendly construction.

However, because of the criticisms of high-tech buildings in the 1980s and 1990s and the overemphasis on technology, architects concentrated on eco-tech architecture while developing their styles, concepts, and ideas. These architects introduced high-tech to replace Eco-Tech (employing technology and ecology to improve human comfort).

Characteristics of Sustainable Architecture

1. Energy Efficiency

One of a sustainable building’s most noticeable characteristics is its energy efficiency. Every part of the building is environmentally conscious, from its air duct sealing to stop air leaks to bigger projects like employing renewable energy for heating and cooling systems.

These projects reduce 90% of a household’s energy demands by constructing passive houses. These are homes that use sunlight as a heating mechanism, reducing the need for additional heating systems. Additionally, they include sound insulation and employ natural ventilation to provide cleaner air which is a necessity for buildings in the city where there is noise pollution.

Sustainable building with solar panels installed on the roof

Image Credits: architecturaldigest.com

Most sustainable architecture installs solar panels for energy-efficient lighting. Street lights controlled by timers are some of the top energy-saving strategies in green buildings. Renewable resources like wind and hydroelectric electricity also power these constructions.

Innovative ideas like solar shingles are unique varieties of solar panels. Solar shingles, not separate panels, power the structures. Still, they must be positioned correctly to absorb the most sunlight because they are hooked into the electrical system.

2. Efficient Waste Management

Today’s major towns need help with overflowing landfills, making effective waste management essential. The construction of sustainable structures places a priority on minimizing waste. Construction-related waste is composted for later use or repurposed into new materials.

To lessen the carbon footprint of the building, even the wastewater that is often sent to sewage plants is treated onsite. However, sustainability applies to more than just the building process. Even once occupied, green buildings include effective waste management systems that separate wet and dry trash to further lessen their negative environmental effects.

3. It Uses Recycled and Natural Materials in Construction

Sustainable architects and “green engineers” lower carbon footprints and conserve natural resources by utilizing recycled materials and repurposing old buildings. These constructions produce durable structures by incorporating sustainable tactics into the design process, such as lowering waste, saving natural resources (such as water and wood), safeguarding the air supply, and minimizing energy consumption.

Use of recycled and natural materials in construction

Image Credits: databridgemarketresearch.com

Construction and design are carried out with consideration of the environment. Sustainable architecture uses eco-friendly sustainable materials bought from regional vendors. Recycled metal, stone, verified third-party forest wood, bamboo, and straw are just a handful of the top sustainable building components.

The construction site is thoroughly cleansed before work starts to remove any pollutants or harmful substances that can compromise sustainability. After all, a site underutilized and needing redevelopment is the best place for sustainable construction.

Since farms and fields are natural habitats and essential components of the green spaces around us, they cannot be viewed as prime locations for development. For instance, low carbon-footprint buildings can be built by stacking cob or moist soil combined with straw and forming brick-like pieces.

The walls are hand-molded using the cob material once it has been stacked. Structures are curved due to this procedure, and homes may feature built-in bookcases and nooks.

4. Buildings Have a Superior Indoor Environment

All of the green building’s inhabitants gain from sustainable architecture! Each apartment is built to provide inhabitants with natural light, wide views, and excellent air quality. Additionally, external noise affects our quality of life, even if we are unaware of it. Sustainable architecture utilizes materials that offer some degree of soundproofing and can help with a space’s sound absorption.

Sustainable architecture with superior indoor

Image Credits: rmjm.com

A house in sustainable development has a soundproof barrier against air and noise pollution, enhancing the health and happiness of its occupants. Additionally, all units are walled off from air pollutants, which prevents moisture buildup and lessens the likelihood of mold and mildew.

5. It Practices Water Efficiency

One of our most precious and finite resources is water. Water efficiency is the first goal in any sustainable development, from planning to completion.

A few sustainable water conservation measures include installing low-flow plumbing fixtures that use half as much water and extensive rainwater collection. Using alternate water sources for irrigation and sanitation is another crucial aspect of green buildings.

6. Design and Orientation

Sustainable Architecture and High Design

Image Credits: architecturaldigest.com

It is possible to use old shipping containers as prefabricated buildings with central heating and ventilation, electrical, and plumbing systems. These containers can form residential and commercial structures by stacking them on top of one another or placing them side by side. We have more information on the importance of custom metal fabrication in architecture and construction.

7. Green Roofs

The temperature in an entire building can be lowered by adding a green roof, rooftop garden, lawn, or another area with different types of trees, plants, and grass. This improves the air quality. They serve as the “lungs” of the city and can be pretty enough to draw birds. Additionally, some of 2023’s most anticipated architecture employs such designs for their roof.

Green roof for a sustainable buidling

Image Credits: urbanscape-architecture.com

How to Build a Green Roof

  1. Cover the roof with a water-resistant barrier.
  2. Add drainage-enhancing material on top.
  3. Use low-maintenance plants and soil to make up the topmost layer.

8. Integration with the Environment

Another important aspect of sustainable architecture is the integration of spaces, such as blending indoor and outside environments through expansive windows or terraces and using expansive balconies. To ensure that the construction has little impact on the area, the natural environment around the structure must be respected and protected in every way possible.

Sustainable building with vertical garden on balconies

Image Credits: build-review.com

Green buildings should incorporate natural components like vertical gardens and use the local vegetation to create a sustainable structure. The ability to effectively and naturally block solar radiation through plants makes it crucial for buildings to fit in with their environment.

A building’s natural resources and disposition is key; it will either be more or less efficient depending on where it is located and how it is planned. Sustainable architecture ensures that a building blends with the surroundings by picking the right materials and utilizing environmental elements.

9. Implement the Use of Technology

Because of the advancements made recently, technology is a crucial tool for designing sustainable structures. We can attain maximum energy efficiency and minimal pollution with these new technologies.

Green building with new technology

Image Credits: cnn.com

The use of renewable energies is crucial throughout construction, from building to subsequently using and maintaining the structures. This reduces energy waste and improves the building’s environmental sustainability.

10. Have Efficient Systems

Some methods, like the creation of an effective floor system or the straightforward lowering of the building’s overall height, create effective systems that aid in energy conservation and the sustainability of buildings.

11. Have Natural Lighting

An efficient design should be built on natural light to minimize electricity usage. Controlling a building’s orientation is necessary to provide good thermal and environmental comfort.

Sustainable buildig with wide windows for lighting

Image Credits: weforum.org

Sustainable architecture exposes our surroundings to less pollution and uses less energy by taking advantage of more natural light and increasing the sunlight hours.

12. Sustainable Architecture Focuses on Durability

Going green is a simple decision for knowledgeable homeowners. You get energy and water savings, enhanced air quality, and general durability. Sustainable buildings have been proven time and time again to last longer.

Sustainable buildings

Image Credits: agcglass.eu

Sustainable building materials (such as recycled decking and roofing) not only withstand for years exposed to the weather but require significantly less upkeep. In addition, because many of them are free from dangerous chemical treatments, they are better for the environment (and the population they serve).

11 Buildings Designed Using Sustainable Architecture

1. Shanghai Tower in China

The Shanghai Tower is one of the most stunning skyscrapers of 2015. It contributes to a green built environment by using energy efficiently. This structure was designed by Green Development Strategiesand was recognized in the 2015 LEED design project.

Shanghai Tower

Image Credits: wikipedia.com

It has sustainable elements like;

  • Water reduction of up to 40%.
  • It decreases energy use by up to 21%.
  • It has wind turbines at the top of the building’s tower to enable outside lighting.
  • It has atrium ventilation and double-skin curtain walls to reduce energy use and aid in insulation.

2. The Pixel Building in Australia

This office complex is the first carbon-neutral building in Australia. The structure was designed by Studio505 and received a grade of 105 on Australia’s green/sustainable rating system.

The Pixel Building

Image Credits: archdaily.com

The structure contains environmentally friendly elements, including a waste management system, a water collection system, green roofs, and a renewable energy setup.

3. The Bullit Center in the US

The self-sustainable building generates renewable energy by using photovoltaics.

Bullitt Center

Image Credits: crosscut.com

The building includes treated heavy timber construction with a lifespan of 250 years. It has a thermal mass that helps it maintain a stable internal temperature for a longer period.

4. Bank of America Tower

The Bank of America Tower was designed by American architect Rick Cook. It is at the forefront of sustainable architecture. It has floor-to-ceiling windows that trap heat and maximize natural light.

Bank Of America Tower

Image Credits: homedit.com

In addition, the building captures rainwater for utilization inside the structure.

5. Museum of Tomorrow

The connection between the city and the natural world is depicted in this design. This north-south building is located off the longitudinal east-west axis of the piers, where lovely garden grounds and recreational spaces are landscaped with containers.

Museum of Tomorrow

Image Credits: theguardian.com

Most of its components are made locally, and it has some cutting-edge technologies, including solar panels, reversible rainwater harvesting, and air conditioning.

Brazil’s greatest creative green building (LEED gold-certified) prioritizes water saving by allowing treated recycled water in showers, sinks, and washbasins.

6. Bahrain World Trade Centre, Manama

The structure comprises twin towers connected by three bridges, each supported by three 29-meter-diameter wind turbines that let the building generate 11 to 15% of its energy requirements.

Bahrain World Trade Center

Image Credits: bahrainwtc.com

To increase the acceleration of airflow towards the turbines, the structure’s shape was inspired by ship sails.

7. The Crystal, London, UK

The Crystal in London is a venue for events and is located close to the Royal Docks. It is situated on an 18,000-square-meter plot of land surrounded by urban landscaping.

The Crystal In London

Image Credits: wikipedia.com

The building is partly powered by electricity, while ground source heat pumps provide the heating. The energy supplied by solar power produces over 20% of the required electricity.

8. One Central Park in Sydney, Australia

Ateliers Jean Nouvel and Foster and Partners are the designers of this building plan’s initial version.

One Central Park

Image Credits: wikipedia.com

A variety of environmentally friendly elements may be found in One Central Park, including a water collection system, green roofing, recycling of demolished materials, automobile sharing, and sewer mining. Potted plants and other greenery can be found inside and outside, mostly on the balconies.

9. Vancouver Convention Center

The Vancouver Convention Centre utilizes cutting-edge green technology and adopts sustainable operational procedures in constructing an environmentally friendly facility.

Vancouver Convention Centre

Image Credits: wikipedia.com

The 6-acre living room of the West Building is home to four beehives containing European bees. Marine Habitat is a restaurant constructed within the west building’s foundation. Additionally, dirty water can be properly treated for irrigation on rooftops and restrooms.

This two-LEED Platinum-certified structure is the most environmentally responsible example of contemporary architecture in Canada. It also encourages natural light and ventilation.

10. Marco Polo Tower

We encourage the use of solar panels to generate renewable energy. This energy is used to cool the buildings throughout. Marco Polo Tower has an ecological design and is 85 meters long.

Marco Polo Tower

Image Credits: theplan.it.com

It has a heat exchanger that manages the temperature of the entire building. Marco Polo Towers’ air conditioning system also allows for natural airflow without causing noise pollution. Additional sun shades are not necessary because the building has overhanging shields that protect it from the direct sun.

11. Bosco Verticale

The residential building Bosco Verticale increases biodiversity and provides ecological habitat by adding green vertical terraces. The balcony is thick enough for the plantation and expanded out irregularly, over which plants grow to a maximum height of 30 feet.

Bosco Verticale

Image Credits: panorama.solutions

These trees and plants help the sun to warm the interiors throughout the winter. These plants also produce oxygen, monitor dust and carbon emissions, shield buildings from radiation, and monitor carbon emissions. Rainwater collected from the structure is used to irrigate these plants.

How Will Sustainable Architecture Impact the Future?

Sustainable design currently makes up a relatively small part of all global construction, despite innovations, advancements, and rising public awareness about the need for greener building approaches.

Furthermore, considering the status of the world today, many experts think the idea of sustainability is no longer relevant. Instead, they insist that the future lies in regenerative architecture and design.

This forward-thinking holistic strategy focuses on utilizing global natural resources to create structures and systems capable of self-regenerating and completely disintegrating after they have served their purpose.

Social equity is incorporated into regenerative design methods since climate change impacts vulnerable people and communities. To learn more about architectural design, you can sign up for a course at one of the best schools for architecture and interior design.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.

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