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Sustainable Design
 
Sustainable buildings: definition
Hi guys,

I am a Nigerian student working on a project which entails the design of a sustainable building for general use, ie., a public building. My question is, what should the the strategy for sustainability hinge on, the people using the building or the building itself?

Is a form of architecture branded sustainable as a result of its architectural technology, or just simply its maintenance? Do various materials, form, specs, etc., have an important role to play?

Have a nice day guys!
Nicholas Musa
Responses
 
Sustainable buildings: definition
Hi!

My name is Susmita Rishi, and I'm a he final year architecture student in the Chandigarh College of Architecture. As my final year thesis, I plan to take up the design of a sustainable campus.

What I've gathered over my studies and from various sites is that sustainability does not depend on one thing. There area number of factors involved, such as the technology, the materials used, the energy efficiency, the source of energy used, etc.

You may want to try these sites if you haven't already:

www.energybuilder.com

www.usgbc.org

www.adpsr-norcal.org

Susmita Rishi
Sustainable buildings: definition
Sustainability really means energy performance and comfort for occupants.

The ultimate goal of anything sustainable is that the energy input to create the structure is low (ie, recycled or reused materials) and that the operation of the building consumes little energy, therefore producing little carbon.

The biggest problem our planet faces is carbon production, which is a greenhouse gas and therefore causes global warming. Reduced energy consumption is the key, some of the other concepts are important as well, but this is the most important.
Tonino Vicari
Sustainable buildings: definition
This definition of sustainable buildings is missing a vital factor.

The need for minimal energy use refers only to fossil-fuel energy (which creates various forms of pollution with bad side-affects for life on Earth) and NOT to other forms of energy use.

Sun power grows plants to feed people, but sun power also grows plants (wood, bamboo, etc.) used for buildings. Plus, water and wind power can be used both mechanically or electrically to drive machines and machinery.

Another important factor is the maintenance of buildings. Any building which is built and then not maintained wastes the money originally used to make the building, because for every year that a building remains in a good state lowers its original building cost.

So, along with building maintenance, there is a need to design for low and low-cost maintenance. This means a robust building capable of withstanding the elements and use by people.
Frank John Snelling
Sustainable buildings: definition
Sustainability is a much misused word. Ideally it means that everything done today can still be done the same way in 100 years or 1000 years. Thus the lifestyle is "sustained" indefinitely or perpetually.

As a codeword, it means avoiding pollution rates faster than the biosphere can clean it, or depleting limited resources faster than they are grown or adequate substitutes can be found.

As an example, concrete produces one ton of CO2 per ton of concrete made, and there is a ton of concrete made for every person on Earth every year. This is not sustainable, as the CO2 pollution rates are increasing faster than the natural biosphere sinks can remove them.

Magnesium_Oxychloride cement (Sorel cement) is made from seawater and produces no CO2 emission associated with its production, but it is more limited in its uses than Portland cement.

Pozzolana cement is made largely from flyash from burning coal, and the environmental cost was already paid for by the power production. Coal power production increases global CO2 pollution, plus has other deadly environmental problems. However, not using the flyash is wasting the value in the ash already paid for.

All cements are heavy, so transporting them long distances rapidly adds transportation expenses and pollution. Even solar-powered Sorel cement production would add a lot of CO2 delivering it far inland from the place it is made.

The environmental costs of using concretes can be reduced by using modern fiber reinforcements. Properly conceived octet truss structures need far less concrete to achieve the exact same strength properties as steel reinforced concretes.

Steel generates lots of CO2 emissions and it is not convenient to make it where it is used, so steel is sometimes transported around the world, at great transportation energy and pollution expense.

Even if carbon fibers created three times the pollution of steel, they would still be 17 times more sustainable because one-quarter of the weight of steel has five times the strength of steel. This 20 times strength-to-weight advantage far offsets any 3x pollution disadvantage. In fact, I cannot find anything to indicate that carbon fibers are more polluting than steel to manufacture. Nor even more expensive.

Lumber harvested in British Columbia and transported 3,000 miles as plywood to Florida is not sustainable just because trees grow back eventually.

The CO2 pollution is killing forests faster than they can grow anymore.

Carbon fibers are an example of technology playing tricks on the word "sustainable". If sustainability means leaving the world capable of doing the same lifestyle for 100 years, they didn't have carbon fibers 100 years ago, and they might not have them 100 years from now. (Carbon fibers are made from oil by today's technology, although, I suppose many carbon sources would do.)

In answer to your question "what should the the strategy for sustainability hinge on, the people using the building or the building itself?", the people who use the building should not be making excessive demands on resources and not complain that excessive resources were not used. The building itself should attempt to use synergy everywhere.

Unfortunately, construction is a very conservative industry, charged with making safe buildings as well as predictable planning of large scheduling of manpower, machinery and materials. Fundamental changes in paradigm are very slow to be accepted. That often translates into making traditional buildings with solar panels slapped on and calling that "green".

Buildings consume 40% of global energy use, and produce 30% of all solid waste (garbage) both in their construction and their destruction at end of life.

Obviously making buildings that use less energy every day is vital to sustainability, but using non-toxic materials which have a recycling use ready for the materials at end of life is important too.

The design has to look at the building from start through end. Any building design which gives 100 years of useful service is twice as sustainable as one made from the exact same materials which needs replacing in 50 years.

So you need to ask why buildings need replacing sooner than others. Buildings difficult to service eventually are too costly to keep up. Everything breaks and the building needs to be built with the thought in mind that all essential services and functions will need regular inspections and access to replace them as warranted. How you route plumbing is important to total building lifespan.

Customers today demand cheap, but 20,000 generations yet unborn have an equal right to a world as good as you got. Sustainability is balancing those two demands.
Lion Kuntz
Sustainable buildings: definition
Nicholas,

Regardless of what the official definitions are, I like to think about "sustainable" based on my audience.

I also like to think about "sustainable" with respect to specific parameters. For example, impact on the enviroment, or on-going maintenance cost considerations.

Some of these may sound trivial, but they are down to earth. I believe.

A building can be sustainable for some audiences and not others. A building can be sustainable or not from a finacial point of view, from an ecological (earth health) point of view, or from a human health point of view.

And these, for each building, can be placed in a prioritized list. Which perspective is most important? Am I creating a sustainable building from ALL perspectives? Probably not. But am I improving on some critical ones? I always hope so.

Define your list of "sustainability" priorities and address them, one by one in your design. Then, just for fun, see if they compare with what others, outside your audience agree or not...

You may be surprised at how little they may understand about "sustainability."

Enjoy your project.
Nando Cruz
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