Sustainability in Architecture Part one: The Future of Building

14 July 2015

In this two part series we explore the future and challenges of sustainable architecture, as well as its increased proliferation.

For Charissa Snjiders of Charissa Snijders Architect, sustainability and the future of sustainable architecture, is a passion that’s led her to developing a practice that looks into the future of architecture and how best to conserve or regenerate the environment.

“I will always desire to do more to benefit both my clients, the land we build on and the ecosystem of which they are a part of.”

“Sustainable architecture,” she continues, “is a move in the right direction from conventional architecture. Sustainable architecture introduces technologies, techniques and products that help reduce waste, and introduces materials that are less toxic and addresses water and energy consumption.”

Charissa says that sustainable architecture is generally based on technical, itemised system and fragmented thinking.

She says there’s currently a shift from, “’wouldn’t it be nice have’ to ‘let’s incorporate as many sustainable features as we can into our projects’.”

A large part of Charissa’s inspiration is the Living Building Challenge, a framework developed to address sustainability at the core of design.

The project is the building industry’s most rigorous performance standard and calls for the creation of building projects  at all scales to operate as cleanly, beautifully and efficiently as nature’s architecture.

Antanas Procuta of Antanas Procuta Architects agrees and says that the marriage between sustainability and architecture is becoming increasingly important to clients.

“We are definitely noticing more people coming to us with sustainability and specific sustainable features in their brief. Thermal mass, solar water heating and extra insulation are some of the common features people ask for.”

Antanas’ designs incorporate many of these as a matter of course. While the company says that people are becoming more open to the benefits of a sustainable home – for their bank accounts, health and environment.

Charissa is excited by the prospect of growing interest within sustainable architecture and is currently working on a project on Waiheke Island that adopts, wherever possible, the Seven Petals and 20 imperatives of the Living Building Challenge.

 Charissa likens the challenges she faces with the uptake of sustainable architecture to those faced by the Slow Food Movement. She says that in the same way the shift from fast food to wholesome ingredients brings meaning to people, sustainability in architecture needs to do the same.

Quoting Bill Reed of Regenisis she says, “’Buildings add value to ecological systems and generate more than they need to fulfil their own needs.’”

The design process is generally slower than the archaic, clear the land, begin construction approach because Charissa and the rest of the team take the time to understand how the building fits into its environment.

“This is a process of observation and tracking the patterns of the climate, life on the land, the geology and waterways. As well as this an understanding of the relationship of people and place occurs through deep listening and uncovering the stories to allow potential to arise rather than compromise and staying with the status quo.”

It’s architecture that works to restore the environment around it, thus lessening the impact of the building.

“We are in exciting times and it is important to dwell on all the good that is happening to help us realise the changes that need to occur to help us work towards creating regenerative architecture.”

While understanding the environment is critical to sustainable architecture Antanas credits TV shows like Grand Designs for having a knock on effect and introducing people to an idea of sustainable architecture that is modern, inspiring and innovative.

Those types of inspiration could also help drive down the cost of sustainable building.

“The UK and Europe are more advanced in their uptake of sustainable building and the costs of sustainable technologies are much more on par with standard building due to higher demand.

“[In New Zealand] District Plan rules are changing to require more efficient use of land and resources and reduce the environmental impact of development.”

Making life decisions around buildings means that New Zealand can progress from sustainable architecture to regenerative architecture, a process that sees projects add meaningful value to existing eco-systems. Which would require a shift in the process of creating and a move towards living and whole systems, says Charissa.

Sustainability needs to begin when the site is purchased, says Antanas. “Most clients come to us with a site already, so for us the sustainable design process starts with considering the orientation of the buildings on site and the layout of spaces within the building to make best use of the site, the natural light and the sun for passive heating.”

With sustainable architecture becoming more prevalent – in the private and commercial space – it’s becoming increasingly important for architects to not only offer sustainable services but to also up-skill in order to meet market demand and the demand of competition. Part of reaching clients in the sustainable architecture sphere is being able to effectively tell the story of your company.

The Sustainable Business Network is working with architects in the Circular Economy Model Office project as part of the work we are doing on Mega-Efficiency.