Sustainability: Where are we going?

Monday 19 Nov 2012

How sustainability is going to change the architectural industry

I believe that all good architecture is also sustainable architecture, going by the very notion of what ‘good’ architecture should be. But while we have come a long way in considering sustainability in our projects, there is still some way to go to integrate sustainability as an intrinsic part of ‘good architecture’, and not just as an add-on or box-ticking exercise, which is often about being seen to be green.

While I am a passionate advocate for all architecture awards to consider sustainability at equal merit with aesthetics, innovation, conceptual imagination and originality, I also appreciate that we are only at the dawning of this new architectural and contextual conscience.

So, until the industry has caught up with this new dawn, having a global sustainability award such as the WAN Sustainability category is to be applauded, as it will no doubt further the necessary merging of sustainable architecture and good architecture into one. And this is where I believe we are going - or at least we should be.

As part of this new architectural conscience, I also believe that in the next few years a renewed focus will be placed on occupant health and climate change adaptation. Indeed, we are not only facing the challenge of climate change mitigation, but also the need to adapt and future-proof our existing and new building stock.

At the same time, the use of innovative solutions should lead to new solutions and a re-grounding of material properties. For example, particularly in cold-climate regions, architects are working on increasing building airtightness. This process will require architects to develop an in-depth awareness of the properties of materials used and how they function most effectively, hopefully influencing innovations in the design and production of materials.

Alongside this, the global recession has also brought to the fore the importance of local product and material specification, and I hope we can see more local supply chains being established.

Lastly, I believe more importance will be placed on the commissioning of buildings alongside the monitoring and evaluation of the building in-use. This will help ensure that our buildings are working well for the occupants and operate as intended, and so that we can continue to learn from the mistakes and successes of the past in order to improve our future designs.

In the last few years there has been an encouraging increase in the number of buildings globally that demonstrate that sustainability does not have to stifle aesthetics, imagination or originality. In fact, some of the most successful sustainable buildings have used contextual parameters as a generator and inspiration for their architecture, using minimal resources.

I am therefore honoured to be joining WAN on its Sustainability judging panel, and look forward to commending schemes that have gone beyond accreditation and unnecessary add-ons, and are simply what I call ‘good architecture’.

Sofie Pelsmakers
Author and ECOWAN Judge

Sofie is the author of The Environmental Design Pocketbook (RIBA Publishing)

Image: Multi-Purpose Hall, Bushbury Hill Primary School, Wolverhampton, UK by Architype. Photograph by Leigh Simpson

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