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Sustainable Society:  A society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period.







Technology & Production Systems


Architectural Design and Construction


Greener Buildings

Sandy Irvine & Alec Ponton*


Architectural Design and Construction

We spend much of our life in buildings whose design, construction, furnishing, operation and demolition generate massive environmental impacts, from quarries and brick works to paint factories and power plants. Our own comfort, health and safety are similarly affected. Sadly, problems ranging from the 'sick building syndrome' to the energy and materials profligacy characterise much of today's built environment.

The design, construction, maintenance & use of the building can make a greater or lesser contribution to a host of problems. All buildings of course occupy space and therefore reduce the amount of land available to other uses, not least wildlife habitat. Then there is the contribution by buildings at all stages of their life cycle to global warming, acid rain and other air pollution problems. Often they add toxic and radioactive substances to air, land & water. The provision of construction timber takes its toll in terms of deforestation and unsustainable patterns of plantation forestry. Environmental degradation and pollution are intimately linked to quarrying and other forms of extraction for other building materials. Constructing and heating buildings depletes fossil fuels, raw materials and water resources. Construction site run-off is also a significant source of water pollution.

In their daily use, many buildings are profligate wasters of energy whilst their occupants experience poor comfort levels and may be exposed to specific and direct health hazards such as legionnaires' disease. Last but not least, buildings may cause aesthetic degradation as townscapes lose local and regional identities. Many people rightly or wrongly perceive the modern building to be carbuncles of great ugliness.


Greener Buildings

Much exciting work is taking place on the 'greening' of architecture, both in terms of new build and the retrofitting of older buildings. A greener approach would pay due attention to the external environment ground cover —existing vegetation, tree cover, species planted, presence of ponds etc., the estate maintenance régime (mowing patterns, phasing out of pesticides etc.) the use of open space, the amount of space covered with hard surfaces (site roads, parking, sports courts etc.) and the overall harmony of building with the site. Maximum use would be made of already degraded sites, with ecologically valuable one protected. Indigenous tree and flower species would be favoured.

In terms of the buildings themselves, a whole series of challenges would be faced, including:

  • Blending with local building styles, scales and materials.
  • Choice of site, orientation, and shelter to optimise use of renewable resources and work with local climate.
  • Minimised use of space, energy, water & raw materials in construction, use, and any subsequent refurbishment.
  • Long-life and low maintenance design and construction.
  • Adaptability.
  • Size and orientation of window areas to minimise energy losses and maximise natural lighting; energy-saving glazing.
  • Use of greener materials and products - non-toxic, minimally polluting, renewable, biodegradable or easily reused, repaired and recycled, e.g. use of demolition/waste materials (for foundations, walls and floorings), minimised use of energy-intensive materials (aluminum has 126 times energy cost of timber equivalent) and of petrochemicals.
  • Energy-efficient heating and lighting systems.
  • Water-efficiency e.g. efficient taps, low-flush toilets, recycling of greywater, collection and use of rainwater.
  • Avoidance of CFCs, HCFCs & Halons (e.g. in refrigeration, fire-fighting equipment, insulation materials).
  • High indoor air quality.
  • Avoidance of hazardous materials-formaldehyde emissions (cavity wall insulation, foam backing, adhesives, chipboard etc.), asbestos, leaded paint, wood treatments
  • Use of cleaners, polishes, bleaches, detergents, air fresheners and other materials made from renewable resources/biodegradable ingredients.
  • Minimised use of fabrics and furniture made from petrochemicals like vinyl, flammable foams etc.
  • Thermal comfort e.g. minimised overheating, cold areas, and draughts; switch to natural ventilation systems
  • Maximised use of natural daylight, visual comfort, soothing colours, creation of sunspaces and convivial areas, etc.
  • Comfortable micro-climates e.g. reduced exposure to wind and rain.
  • 'Intelligent' control systems for heating, cooling, water, airflow and lighting plus local control systems - metering, thermostats etc.
  • Comfortable levels of indoor noise.
  • Facilities for cyclists
  • Recycling of waste outputs
  • Facilities for storage and collection of different wastes for recycling

Quite a challenge!

Architectural Design and Construction

Alexander, C. A Timeless Way of Building. OUP, 1979.
Alexander, C. The Production of Houses. OUP, 1985.
Clifton-Taylor, A. The Pattern of English Building. Faber & Faber, 1987. A guide to traditional diversity in English buildings and townscapes.
Downing, D. Day Light Robbery-The Importance of Sunlight to Health. Arrow, 1988. A polemic against life under artificial light.
Elkin, T., & McLaren D. Reviving the City: Towards Sustainable Urban Development. FoE, 1991. A more general study but with many implications for developers, architects and builders.
Roaf, S., ed. Energy Efficiency in Buildings. OUP, 1993.

References: Greener Buildings

Bainbridge, D., et al. Village Homes' Solar House Designs. Rodale, 1979.
Ball, R. Making Space: Design for Compact Living. Overlook Pr., 1989.
Borer, P., et al,. Environmental Building. CAT, 1992.
Borer, P. & C. Harris. Out of the Woods: Ecological Designs for Timber Frame Self Build. CAT, 1994.
Broome, J. & B. Richardson. The Self-Build Book. Green Books, 1991.
Dadd, D. The Non-Toxic Home. Tarcher, 1986.
Day, C. Places of the Soul: Architecture and Environmental design as a Healing Art. Aquarian, 1993. Building with people and place in mind.
Easton, D. The Rammed Earth House: Rediscovering the Most Ancient Material. Green books, 1996.
Harland, Edward. Eco-Renovation: The Ecological Home Improvement Guide. Green Books, 1993. Specifically about domestic home improvement but of general relevance as well. Clearly, to save land, we need to minimise new built, especially on ecologically valuable sites, and concentrate on the reuse/recycling of existing buildings
Holdsworth, Bill. Healthy Buildings: a Design Primer for a Living Environment Architectural, Design and Technology Press, 1992.
Papanek, V. The Green Imperative: Ecology & Ethics in Design & Architecture. Thames & Hudson, 1995.
Pearson, D. The Natural House Book. Octopus, 1989.
Prowler, D. Modest Mansions: Designs for Luxurious Living in Less Space. Rodale Pr., 1985.
Roodman D. & N. Lenssen. A Building Revolution: How Ecological and Health Concerns are Transforming Construction. WorldWatch Institute, 1995.
Talbot, J. Simply Build Green. Findhorn Foundation, 1994. A technical guide to the ecological village project at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland.
Vale, B., and R. Vale. Green Architecture. Thames and Hudson, 1991.
Vale, B. & R. Vale. Building The Sustainable Environment. In Blowers, A., ed., Planning for A Sustainable Environment. Earthscan, 1993. Work from a study group linked to the Town and Country Planning Association.
Wells, M. Gentle Architecture McGraw-Hill, 1982.
EcoArchitecture: Specific Buildings
Crisp, V., et al. The BRE Low-Energy Office. BRE, 1984.

Farallones Institute. The Integral Urban House. Sierra, 1979. Description of an attempt in the 1970s to transform an inner suburban home into a more self-sufficient building.
Leicester Ecology Trust. Eco House-The Guide. L.E.T., 1992.
Poole, D. Green Piece. Architects Jnl, Nov., 194/22, 1991:51-54. Refurbishment of Greenpeace offices in London.
Potts, M. The Independent Home: Living Well with Power from the Sun, Wind & Water. Chelsea Green, 1993. A number of case studies, based on interviews with pioneering spirits.

The Ark Foundation (8-10 Bourdon St., London, W1X 9HX) have produced an interesting feasibility study for the building of a greener community launderette. Ecover, manufacturers of the well-known range of environmentally friendlier cleaning products, have opened recently a new factory in Belgium, with many green features, including a meadow roof! A booklet is available.

It is also worth contacting the General Hospital, Ashington in northern England: it is one of the most energy-efficient buildings of its kind in Europe. Another recently opened building, the Engineering Faculty at De Montfort University, Leicester, is another example of pioneering design and is particularly noted for large-scale passive ventilation system. The Findhorn Foundation at Forres, in northern Scotland, has also been building what it calls 'an ecological village', with buildings that use local timber materials and generally resource-efficient and free from toxic materials. Across in Holland, there is Amsterdam's Internationale Nederlanden Bank headquarters which consumes only 10% of the energy of its predecessor.

References: Building techniques and materials

Baines, C. Landscapes for New Housing: The Builders Manual. New Homes Marketing Board, 1993.
Fox, A., & R. Murrell. Green Design: A Guide to the Environmental Impact of Building Materials Architecture, Design & Technology Press, 1989.
FoE. Good Wood Manual FoE, 1990.
Guthrie, P. & H. Mallett. Waste Minimisation & Recycling in Construction-A Review. CIRIA, 1995(?).
Hall, K., & P. Warm. Greener Building: Products and Services Directory. Assoc. for Environment Conscious Building, 1993.
Johnston J., & J. Newton, J. Building Green: A Guide to Using Plants on Roofs, Walls & Pavements. London Ecology Unit, 1993.
London Hazards Centre. Toxic Treatments. LHC, 1989. Focus on wood preservatives.
London Hazards Centre. Sick Building Syndrome: Causes, Effects & Control. LHC, 1990.
Martlew, G., & S. Silver. The Green Home Handbook: A Guide to Safe & Healthy Living in a Toxic World. Fontana, 1991.
RMI. Resource-Efficient Housing Guide. RMI, n.d. Bibliography & guide.
Weir, F. Safe as Houses? CFCs in Buildings. FoE, 1989.
Weir, F. Towards Ozone Friendly Buildings. FoE, 1989.

See also:

Building Services Research & Information Association. Environmental Code of Practice-for Buildings and their Services. BSRIA, 1994. Result of BSRIA research project on the alleviation of the adverse environmental impacts of buildings. Obviously an important volume, albeit not with the same environmentalist perspective as those cited above.

Energy Conscious Design: a Primer. Badsford for Commission of the European Communities. A more accessible presentation.
European Passive Solar Handbook: Basic Principles & Concepts Commission of the European Communities. A more technical work.
Goulding, J.R., et al. Energy Conscious Design Batsford, 1992.
Leicester Environment City. Building for the Environment: An Environmental Good Practice Checklist for the Construction and Development Industries Leicester County Council, 1992.
Olivier, D. Efficient Use of Water in Buildings. Building Services, July, 12./7, 1990: 44-45.
Prior, J., ed. Environmental Assessment for New Office Design. BRE, 1993.
RIBA Environmental & Energy Policy Committee. Statement on Global Warming & Ozone Depletion. RIBA, 1990.
Roaf, S., & M. Hancock. Energy Efficient Building: A Design Guide. Blackwell, 1992.
Commission of the European Communities. Solar Architecture in Europe: Design, Performance and Evaluation Prim, 1991.
Wolf, S., Architecture & Energy: Teachers' Resource Pack University College, Dublin, Energy Research Group.
The Building Research Establishment, Garston, Watford, WD2 7JR produces a very detailed bookshop catalogue with lots of interesting and useful material.

* Used with permission of the authors.
See original at < http://www.realworld.u-net.com/EcoList.Technology.html >.

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