If you look at the building around you, you’ll find that most of them are extremely energy-dependent and contribute intensively towards greenhouse gas emissions. Chances are high that these structures were constructed using non-biodegradable materials which has severely impacted the environment. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative (SBCI) (UNEP SBCI, 2010), the building sector alone is responsible for 40% of the annual energy consumption and 30% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. This has put immense stress on the environment over the years which means that now is the time for sustainable architecture. But what exactly is sustainable architecture and what does it have in store?
There are many definitions of sustainable architecture, but it is most commonly defined as a building or a structure that requires zero energy from external sources, it produces zero carbon dioxide or other harmful emissions, and one which when converted or deconstructed produces zero waste. It looks at encouraging architects to design buildings that consider the long-term impacts with respect to the environment, society, economy, and culture. It looks to ensure that future generations have a healthy environment.
In December 2015, the Paris agreement was adopted by 196 parties and five years ago, each country is taking measures to reach carbon neutrality. And since the building sector is responsible for most of the energy consumption, sustainability will take the front seat in the future of architecture. Green buildings and net-zero construction will be the goal for architects in the future. Architecture that incorporates materials and design strategies that are environmentally friendly and at the same time delivers on the artistic vision will be the focus.
An increasing number of cities are implementing a host of biophilic design architecture programs, policies and initiatives so that urban environments can become greener. Cities such as Chicago and Portland have developed incentives and subsidies for the installation of green features such as green rooftops. Green rooftops, mandating minimum green and landscaping elements for new development projects, will become more prominent in architectural projects soon. And not just green rooftops but sky gardens, green wall building, and green courtyards will be some biophilic design elements that will form a big part of the sustainable architecture project.
Reduce-Reuse-Recycle, or circular economy for sustainability, will gain real momentum in the upcoming years. Architectural projects that focus on reducing waste generation during construction and materials used on a daily basis through the circular economy system will be the norm. In fact, the system will not just see widespread adoption on a project-basis but on the national level. For instance, in order to promote “a green circular economy”, Saudi Arabia saw the opening of the first construction materials debris recycling facility.
The future of cities and sustainable design will also be shaped in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic. A study conducted at Harvard University to investigate the link between air pollution rates and a number of coronavirus patient deaths found that many pre-existing conditions that increase the risk of death in those with COVID-19 are the same diseases that are affected by long-term exposure to air pollution. In the future, there will be calls for making cities healthier for inhabitants and more sustainable.
Moreover, the pandemic has changed the way we interact with buildings and its design. People are hesitant to share the same HVAC system in a room with a large number of people. Touching the elevator buttons is giving people shivers. To minimize physical contact and reduce the transmission of viruses, voice-activated elevators and other technologies that ensure social distancing and eliminate connection with surfaces will emerge. The buildings of the future will have to ensure enough natural ventilation and sunlight “UV” that kills indoor infectious agents whereas the spaces need to be designed in a way that sterilizes and reduce infections in a closed space. Post-pandemic architecture with a focus on sustainability will see a massive boom.
Sustainable architecture is the only way forward. Over the last few decades, buildings have contributed towards rapid depletion of resources from the planet and if we don’t act now, the last remaining resources and ecosystems too will be destroyed leaving us with absolutely nothing but an abundance of toxic waste.