A Guide to Sustainable Building Design: Key Concepts & Best Practices

A Guide to Sustainable Building Design: Key Concepts & Best Practices | F9 Productions

Architecture through Sustainable Building Design

Sustainable building design has become increasingly important in the field of architecture in recent years because of the effects of climate change becoming more and more apparent. The building industry accounts for a significant proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions, and sustainable building design aims to minimize this impact as much as possible by considering the environmental, social, and economic impacts of a building throughout its lifecycle. Architects, builders, and owners all play a crucial role in promoting sustainability by adhering to best practices and reducing the environmental impact of the entire industry.

Sustainable Building Design Concepts

There are several key concepts that architects, builders, and owners should consider in creating sustainable building designs. These are as follows:

Site selection

Architects should consider the environmental impact of a building site and prioritize sustainable land use. Owners should select sites that minimize the impact of the building process on natural habitats, promote biodiversity, enable ample access to the sun for passive solar harvesting, and retain close access to public transportation. Builders should try to limit the impact of the building process as much as possible, including implementing recycling programs for any construction waste.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center is a prime example of sustainable site selection well done. Located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, the center is situated on a previously developed brownfield site that was restored using native vegetation and rain gardens to reduce stormwater runoff. By reducing impervious surfaces, prioritizing natural lighting and ventilation, and installing an on-site wastewater treatment system, the center is at the forefront of putting the surrounding ecosystem at the heart of the sustainable building design process. Additionally, the site was selected due to its proximity to public transportation, bike paths, and pedestrian walkways, with the intended aim to reduce reliance on cars. By prioritizing sustainable site selection, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation created a building with a minimal environmental footprint while still serving as an educational and community resource.

Energy efficiency

Energy efficiency is one of the most crucial aspects of sustainable building design. Architects must evaluate the building’s orientation, insulation, and use of renewable energy to lessen energy
consumption. By minimizing the energy consumed by a building, architects can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and directly work toward a more sustainable future. Owners should consider conducting a cost-benefit analysis to evaluate how spending more upfront may save money down the line through energy efficient systems. Builders should closely watch their subcontractors to ensure energyefficient systems are installed correctly.

The Empire State Building in New York City is a great example of a building that has undergone significant energy efficiency upgrades. The building’s windows were upgraded to double-paned glass, insulation was added to the walls, and energy-efficient lighting and HVAC systems were installed. These upgrades have resulted in a 38% reduction in energy consumption and saved the building millions of dollars in energy costs.

Eco-friendly materials

Materials that are locally sourced, recycled, or sustainable reduce a building’s carbon footprint. Architects should examine a material’s environmental impact throughout its lifecycle, from extraction, manufacturing, and transportation to installation and disposal. Owners should again carry out a cost-benefit analysis before making decisions on the materials suggested by the architect. Builders should familiarize themselves with the best methods for installing materials, so they last as long as possible.

The Salesforce Tower in San Francisco is a fantastic building that incorporates eco-friendly materials into its architecture and sustainable building design. The tower features a façade made of white aluminum and clear glass which reduces the amount of energy needed to cool the building while maximizing natural light. The tower’s lobby features a living green wall of 22,000 plants that purifies the air and reduces carbon dioxide levels. The tower also used recycled materials in its construction, including reclaimed wood and steel, further adhering to best practices in sustainable building design.

Water conservation

Buildings that implement technologies such as low-flow fixtures, rainwater harvesting systems, and graywater systems reduce water consumption. Architects should consider a building’s water needs and design accordingly to promote sustainable water use. Owners should analyze the benefits and cost savings of any water saving technologies suggested by the architect. Builders should be knowledgeable about the technologies, fixtures, and systems prescribed by the architect to ensure they are installed correctly and will last for as long as possible.

The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco exemplifies a sustainable design build that uses innovative water conservation techniques. The building’s living roof helps absorb rainwater and reduce runoff. The building’s toilets are flushed with reclaimed water and rainwater is collected and recycled in the building’s aquariums. By implementing these water conservation techniques, the building has reduced its water consumption by 33%.

Indoor environmental quality

Architects must design buildings that maximize healthy indoor air quality, thermal comfort, and natural lighting, promoting both sustainability and a better quality of life for its occupants. Owners should consider the benefits of healthy indoor environmental quality for the occupants who will be leasing and using their buildings. Builders should ensure that subcontractors install the products chosen for construction and indoor environmental quality according to best practices.

One example of an amazing building with a strong focus on indoor environmental quality is the WELL Certified Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The facility is equipped with a green roof, natural ventilation system, and rainwater harvesting system to reduce water usage. The building materials were chosen for their low toxicity and sustainable sourcing. The design also features ample natural light and views of the surrounding gardens, encouraging residents’, visitors’, and employees’ connection to nature and improved mental health. The building has been recognized for its great indoor environmental quality and commitment to sustainability.

Best Practices in Sustainable Building Design

There are several best practices that architects, owners, and builders should ideally implement when designing sustainable buildings. These are as follows:

Passive solar design

Architects should aim to maximize natural lighting and heat retention by properly orienting the building, window placement, and shading. By reducing the need for artificial light and heating, buildings save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Owners should demand this approach from their architects from the very beginning of the sustainable design process. And builders should, of course, respect the strategy chosen by the architect and owner.

The Cité du Soleil in Grenoble, France, is a great example of passive solar design. The building’s south-facing facade features a large solar panel system that captures and stores solar energy year-round. The panels provide hot water and heat for the entire building, massively reducing its energy consumption and carbon footprint.

Green roofs

Architects can include vegetated roofs in their architecture sustainable building design to reduce the heat island effect, increase insulation, and promote biodiversity. Green roofs are also able to reduce stormwater runoff and provide a natural habitat for wildlife. Owners should ask that a green roof be considered, budget permitting. Builders should familiarize themselves with green roof building methods to ensure that whatever green roof is selected for the building, it can be installed properly.

The Seattle Justice Center in Seattle, Washington, features a green roof that serves as a natural habitat for local wildlife while simultaneously reducing the building’s energy consumption. The roof also lowers the urban heat island effect for the surrounding area and provides a peaceful green space for building occupants and visitors alike.

Rainwater harvesting

By collecting rainwater for non-potable usage such as irrigation and toilet flushing, buildings can vastly downsize their reliance on municipal water systems. Architects should design buildings with rainwater harvesting systems which are often cost-effective and easy to maintain. Owners should check with their local municipality to ensure they are allowed to collect and recycle rainwater. Builders should educate themselves on any rainwater harvesting systems designed by the architect and selected by the owner to ensure proper implementation.

The Bullitt Foundation’s Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction in Seattle, Washington, features a vast rainwater harvesting system that collects rainwater from the roof and stores it in an underground cistern. The water is then used for non-potable purposes such as toilet flushing and irrigation, significantly reducing the building’s dependence on, and use of, municipal water systems.

Renewable energy systems

Architects can include solar panels, wind turbines, and any other renewable energy sources in their architecture and sustainable building design. By generating clean energy directly on site, buildings can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and champion a more sustainable future. Owners should weigh the upfront costs of these energy sources against possible long-term returns on investment before selecting which energy sources to use. Builders should take responsibility for selecting subcontractors who are familiar with the installation means and methods of any systems specified by the architect and selected by the owner.

The Bahrain World Trade Center in Manama, Bahrain, features three large wind turbines located between the building’s two towers. These turbines provide up to 15% of the building’s energy needs and constitute a unique example of how renewable energy can be integrated into a building’s design.

Lifecycle analysis

Architects must consider the environmental impact of building materials from extraction to disposal. By utilizing materials that have a low carbon footprint and can be recycled or repurposed at the end of their lifecycle, architects promote sustainability within the building industry. Owners should analyze the cost of sustainable materials versus typical building materials and then make an informed decision. Builders should understand how to install or recycle any such materials during the construction process.

The Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies at Oberlin College in Ohio, USA, was designed with sustainable building materials, including locally sourced wood, recycled steel, and concrete made with fly ash. The building also features a natural wastewater treatment system and solar panels to generate clean energy, making it a prime example of sustainable building design that is considerate of the entire lifecycle of a building’s materials and systems.

Design Aspects of Sustainable Buildings – Case Studies

The Edge in Amsterdam

The Edge, an Amsterdam office building that was completed in 2014, has set a new gold standard for best practices in sustainable building design worldwide. The building’s sustainability success is due to its site selection, energy efficiency, use of eco-friendly materials, water conservation, indoor environmental quality, passive solar design, green roofs, rainwater harvesting, renewable energy systems, and lifecycle analysis.

Designed by PLP Architecture in collaboration with OVG Real Estate, The Edge is highly energy-efficient, producing more energy than it consumes, and received the highest BREEAM rating ever awarded because of its focus on renewable energy sources, including solar panels covering the entire south-facing facade and a biomass plant.

Moreover, The Edge relies on innovative features, such as a combination of sensors and a smartphone app to adjust the lighting and temperature levels for individual workers, to reduce energy consumption and increase comfort levels. The building’s rainwater harvesting system also collects and recycles rainwater for use in the building’s toilets.

In addition to its sustainable features, The Edge is a visually striking building that combines cutting-edge design with functional efficiency. Its transparent facades allow for natural light and ventilation, while the atrium at the heart of the building facilitates a sense of openness and community. The building’s green roof supports natural biodiversity and reduces heat island effects, and its lifecycle analysis guarantees a minimal environmental impact throughout its lifetime.

The Bullitt Center in Seattle

The Bullitt Center, a commercial building in Seattle, was designed by Miller Hull Partnership and completed in 2013. It incorporates best practices in sustainable building design across site selection, energy efficiency, eco-friendly materials, water conservation, indoor environmental quality, passive solar design, green roofs, rainwater harvesting, renewable energy systems, and lifecycle analysis.

Despite being six-stories high, the building achieves net-zero energy consumption, producing as much energy as it consumes. It is powered through a combination of rooftop solar panels and a geothermal heat pump system and features a rainwater harvesting system that collects and recycles rainwater for recycling in the building’s compositing toilets and irrigation.

In addition to its energy-saving features, the Bullitt Center’s construction process incorporated sustainable materials such as FSC-certified wood and a green roof that provides insulation, reduces the heat island effect, and promotes biodiversity.

The Bullitt Center not only excels at sustainability but also looks aesthetically pleasing. Its transparent facades allow for plenty of natural light and views of the surrounding nature, and the wood paneling and metal cladding give it a modern yet warm appearance. The building’s lifecycle analysis guarantees that the building will have a minimal environmental impact throughout its lifecycle.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center

Another exemplary sustainable building is the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach. Designed by SmithGroupJJR and completed in 2014, the center serves as a model for sustainable building design and environmental stewardship.

Site selection was a key consideration in the center’s design. The building is located on a brownfield site, which was previously used for industrial purposes and contaminated with pollutants. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation specifically selected this site to demonstrate that contaminated land can be rehabilitated and repurposed for sustainable use.

The Brock Environmental Center is a net-zero energy building, meaning it produces as much energy as it consumes, which is achieved through a combination of passive solar design, maximizing natural light and heat, and an array of rooftop solar panels. The building also features a geothermal heating and cooling system and rainwater harvesting system to collect and recycle rainwater across irrigation and toilet flushing.

The center’s sustainable features include the use of eco-friendly materials, such as salvaged wood and low-emitting materials, and a green roof that reduces the building’s heat island effect and provides a habitat for local flora and fauna. The building also has a comprehensive indoor environmental quality plan that covers strategies for ensuring optimal air quality, temperature, and lighting.

Lifecycle analysis was critically important for the design process of the Brock Environmental Center. The building was designed to be resilient and made from materials and systems that can withstand the region’s coastal climate and potential sea level rise. It was also designed with flexibility in mind and adaptable spaces that can be reconfigured whenever the needs of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation change.

Conclusion – Sustainable Design and Build Strategies Summary

In conclusion, the design aspects of sustainable building are a crucial part of modern architecture, given the urgency of climate change. As buildings account for a significant portion of global greenhouse gas emissions, the building industry plays a critical role in reducing these emissions. Sustainable building design considers the environmental, social, and economic impacts of buildings throughout their entire lifecycle.

To achieve sustainable building designs, architects, owners, and builders must all consider key concepts such as energy efficiency, eco-friendly materials, water conservation, indoor environmental quality, and site selection and implement best practices such as passive solar design, green roofs, rainwater harvesting, renewable energy systems, and lifecycle analysis.

Case studies of sustainable building design, such as The Edge in Amsterdam and the Bullitt Center in Seattle, provide tangible examples of how these principles can be applied, highlighting the benefits of sustainable design for both the building industry and the planet. By adopting sustainable building design principles, architects, builders, and owners can contribute to a more sustainable future, one building at a time.

If you’re ready to contribute to a more sustainable future, start by discovering the exceptional designs of our architecture firm including residential, multi-family, and more. Explore our portfolio today.

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