In recent years the environmental impact of various activities and businesses has become a topic of discussion and consideration. The construction industry is a major contributor to energy consumption and harsh footprints on the environment. Thus, to reduce the impact on the environment various eco-friendly materials have been introduced along with design skills that offer integrated solutions considering the environment. In architecture, various aspects namely building material, resource, design, construction methods, etc. impact sustainability. Sustainable architecture or green architecture challenges architects to produce designs that will cause minimal harmful impact on the environment.

There are three prime features of a sustainable architectural project namely,

1. Building materials that are environment-friendly

Architects who practice sustainable architecture choose eco-friendly materials, mostly those materials that are either renewable or are recycled. Materials that require the least energy for their manufacture also fall under environmentally-friendly construction materials. Architects often prefer materials that are available locally as the distance materials travel reduces and procurement becomes cost-effective. Many companies specialize in supplying recycled architectural materials procured from the demolished sites. Architects experiment with various environmentally friendly materials in their designs and try to create zero energy buildings. As the importance of sustainable architecture is increasing various courses that offer specialization have been introduced in the education system along with programs like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) that certify buildings as green buildings to embolden architects.

2. Efficiency in energy and resources

Structures that utilize wind, solar energy, or geothermal energy efficiency through their design are accounted as sustainable buildings that are energy efficient. There are various ways in which the energy efficiency of a building can be increased and is familiar to a sustainable architect. For instance, a sustainable architect knows how the building orientation can be beneficial in utilizing the sun’s position, seasonal changes, etc. Use of correct insulating materials and appropriate direction of windows prevents indoor humidity by least loss of warm and cool air and conserves energy.

3. Utilizing the space efficiently

Sustainable architects are well aware of the importance of space quality indoors. Efficient use of spaces reduces unusable floor space making the maximum use of the valuable area. Maintaining ventilation, temperature control, and using materials that do not release toxic gases enhance space efficiency. Space efficiency is utilizing the area to its maximum potential to create quality spaces.

Along with certain characteristics of a sustainable architectural project, its implementation is partnered with certain benefits namely,

a. Environmental Benefits

In sustainable architectural projects, the natural resources are conserved and restored thus making them available for many. As care is taken of the materials and other features used in construction (e.g. reused materials) there is a reduction in the energy consumption and waste generated. Cautious use of natural materials protects the ecosystem and maintains environmental biodiversity. As there is minimum or absolutely no emission of toxic gases in the process of a sustainable project the air and water quality is not contaminated.

b. Economic Benefits

As traditional energy sources are used in the structure there is a reduction in long-term cost making the structure economically sustainable. Property value increases thus upgrading the assets. As the spaces are utilized at their full potential the property offers economic benefit.

c. Social Benefits

Sustainable Architecture directly or indirectly revamps the living, comfort, and health of the users. As there is no or less emission of toxic gases the quality of air and water is enhanced. Demand for infrastructure that is locally used by people is comparatively reduced.

Many structures around that world are considered as green building and possess all or most of the characteristics along with offering benefits to the society namely,

  • Pixel Building, Melbourne, Australia
  • One Central Park, Sydney, Australia
  • Museum of Tomorrow, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Vancouver Convention Centre West, Vancouver, Canada
  • Suzlon One Earth, Pune, India, etc.

Multiple environment-friendly construction materials are available that have less or no impact on the environment. Climate also affects the type of material to be considered for construction to make the structure sustainable. There are a few materials that are widely used in sustainable construction, namely

  • Bamboo: Bamboo is extensively preferred by most sustainable architects as it is the foremost eco-friendly material used for construction. Bamboo continues to spread and grow even after harvesting as it doesn’t need replanting, the growth rate of bamboo is very rapid with up to 3feet in a day. Bamboo is an easily procured material around the world and this is the best alternative to expensive imported materials. Another benefit of using bamboo is that it is lightweight but its strength is not compromised and holds greater compressive strength than commonly used materials like concrete and brick. Bamboo is a durable material if treated correctly to combat insects and rot. As it is lightweight and locally available the transportation becomes easy and cost-efficient.
  • Cork: Similar to the bamboo growth rate of cork is also fast. Cork is acquired from a tree bark that continues to reproduce even after harvesting. Cork retains its original shape and form post released from a sustaining pressure. Cork is widely used as a flooring material as it absorbs noise and shock along with being resistant to wear. Being a good thermal insulator is an attribute that is adequate for flooring material. Though it is lightweight and easy to transport, cork is not commonly used as a major material for construction due to its limited availability geographically making the shipping costs high.
  • Recycled Plastic: Plastic as a waste material harms our environment and adds up to global warming, but recently plastic has started to transpire as a sustainable construction material. Researchers have started producing concrete from recycled plastic. Plastic that otherwise sticks around in the environment reducing the greenhouse gas emissions is channelized correctly and converted into a useful resource. This is the best way to use waste plastic in a constructive way that will clear the waste in the environment and can be used as a sustainable material for construction.
  • Recycled and Reused Wood and Metal: Metal used in construction requires high energy and cost for their production. Reusing these metals from the demolished sites to remold for the next use reduces the efforts and cost of extracting raw material and going through the entire process for production and increase cost and wastage. This recycled metal is durable thus can be used in building facades and roofs as it also resistant to water. There can be parts of demolished sites like the plumbing metals that can be reused in the state they are procured from the site and do not need recycling. Similarly, wood can also be recycled or reused to help the environment and construct sustainable structures.
  • Pre-cast Concrete Slab: The less energy required to cast and assemble a precast concrete slab makes it a sustainable material for construction. As precast slabs are cured in a controlled environment they are cured without and chances or fewer chances of forming cracks and other structural faults that lead to demolishing and constructing a new slab. Reducing the chances of wastage and saving money adds points to precast concrete slab being a sustainable option for concrete slabs.
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