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Sustainable architecture and ecological infrastructure

The spectrum of sustainable and ecological architecture

Since the Rio Summit in 1992, sustainability has gained momentum in various disciplines. The World Commission on Environment and Development defined the term as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (WCED Report, 1990:8). Sustainability is increasingly becoming a central concern in the discourse of architecture and urbanism, which stems from the realisation of the negative effects of human interventions, such as global warming, decline of natural resources, pollution, ozone depletion, and deforestation. It is ascertained that conventional buildings inefficiently consume large amount of energy and generate large amount of waste during their construction process and their occupation and operation (Howe, 2010).' Consequently, a spectrum of approaches was developed to conceptualise sustainability, such as sustainable architecture, ecological design, and green buildings. Although different researchers differently conceived these terms, green architecture and sustainable design are often used interchangeably. Irrespective of the debate that distinguishes between these terms as two different approaches, they are generally used to refer to the architectural movement that minimises the impact of any interventions on the environmental and ecological levels. Both are meant to increase the design value while fulfilling the needs of present and future generations.

Although the definition of a green building is constantly evolving, green architecture is defined as a theory and a science of creating environmentally friendly buildings (Ragheb et al. 2016). It is also referred to as the practice of adopting environmentally responsible and resource-efficient approaches throughout the life cycle of a structure (EPA, 2019). The main criteria considered to create green buildings are reduction of energy consumption, prevention of environmental damage, reduction in embodied energy, and facilitation of healthy indoor air (Ragheb et al., 2016). Green design is the underpinning within architectural design of three ecological elements that form the natural environment (Hyde, 2007:6). The first is site and climate, which form the context of the building; the second is the life systems, which address human comfort issues such as water, air, sound, and light; and the third is the material systems, which address the levels of manufacturing that range from natural materials, to recycled materials, to complex construction systems of industrial materials (Hyde, 2007:6). The five major elements of green building design are noted to be sustainable site design, water conservation and quality, energy and environment, indoor environmental quality, and conservation of materials and resources. Green architecture is mainly about the use of technological trends in creating energy-efficient buildings whose environmental performance is significantly better than those constructed with typical practice. It is the fusion of environmental technologies, such as photovoltaic systems and other environmentally friendly services, with art (Wines, 2000).

Similarly, sustainable design is defined as a philosophy of designing buildings in such a way that complies with the principles of social, economic, and ecological sustainability. According to McLennan, “sustainable design is a philosophy that seeks to maximize the quality of the built environment, while minimizing or eliminating negative impact to the natural environment” (McLennan, 2004:25). This definition highlights several important issues; the first is that sustainable design is not an aesthetic exercise or a trend that can go out of style. Rather it is a philosophy that can be used on any building type at any scale, at any given time. The second is that the major goal of this philosophy is to enhance quality through creating better buildings and places to inhabit. The third is the most important goal, which is eliminating negative impacts on the natural environment through skilful and sensitive design solutions (McLennan, 2004:25). The innovation in design solutions is of immense importance to sustainable architecture, besides its main focus on reducing energy consumption and preventing environmental damage.

It is stated by Kim (1998) that architecture has a collective impact on the ecosystem, which is on inorganic elements, living organisms, and humans. He also explains that sustainable architecture strives to provide design solutions that can guarantee the cohabitation between the three components of the ecosystem (Kim, 1998). In this same context, Kim (1998) introduces three principles of sustainable architecture: economy of resources, which focuses on reducing, reusing, and recycling natural resources; life cycle design, which provides a method of analysing the impact of the building throughout its life cycle; and human design, which focuses on the interactions between humans and the natural and built environment (Kim, 1998:8). Moreover, McLennan (2004) detailed these principles in six governing principles for sustainable design. The first of these principles is the respect for the wisdom of natural systems, which is a re-emerging design principle - taking nature as mentor, as was the case prior to the industrial age (Benyus, 1996). The second is the respect for people, which aims at respecting the needs of people and honouring the diversity of individuals. The third is the respect for place, which respects regionalism and honours the cultural and environmental variations between various places. The fourth principle is the respect for the cycle of life, which is based on the belief that humankind is part of a greater cycle that should not be disturbed by any human creation. The fifth is the respect of energy and natural resources, which preserves the quality of the project and the long-term availability of the resources. The final principle is the respect for process, which calls for changing the process of behaviour and practice in responding to environmental problems (McLennan, 2004).

In this way, applying sustainable principles on design is not easy, because it requires an articulate understanding of a complex inter-connecting network between traditional values, economic measures, and the appropriate quality of life (Sassi, 2006). As buildings impact both the natural environment and the social structure of societies, Sassi (2006) argues that sustainable architecture should positively achieve “economically strong, socially inclusive, stable communities while minimizing the impact on the environment” (Sassi, 2006:8). Accordingly, the two main aims of sustainable design - the building’s ecological footprint and its contribution to the social environment, are achieved “through addressing people’s practical needs while enhancing their surrounding and their psychological and physical well-being” (Sassi, 2006:9).

Green, sustainable, or ecological architecture is much more than reducing the negative environmental impact of buildings. It is a philosophy, process, approach, and practice that seeks to redefine the way buildings are designed, built, and operated to be more responsible to the environment and to the people. The principles of sustainability have been adopted and contextualised by many architects who strive to contribute to the environmental agenda. Whether the project is categorised under green, sustainable, or ecological architecture is of a lesser importance in this chapter, which presents a number of projects that are recognised for their creative response to environmental issues.

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