Ever wonder how the world’s best architects approach sustainable design? Their insight, perspective, and approach to tackling current and forthcoming challenges provide inspiration fuel for future building design projects.
Here are 6 sustainable design tips from leading A&D professionals. Through their work, they push us to have an expanded understanding of sustainable design.
Jean Nouvel: Think into the future
Jean Nouvel is unquestionably one of our time’s most impactful sustainable architects. The Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning architect behind the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Philharmonie de Paris is widely renowned for his groundbreaking work in sustainable design. Projects like the futuristic One Central Park and the National Museum of Qatar showcase Nouvel’s knack for blending eco-friendliness with beautiful design.
Nouvel has always been an innovator, so it’s not surprising that his advice is similarly forward-looking. In a 2017 interview, Nouvel encouraged sustainable architects to think about how their design might adapt to long-term changes: “More than ever, sustainability is at stake…We live in a world of constant and profound transformation, so architects have to radically rethink the way we build. New expressions need to reflect new paradigms and the rise of technology. We have to project our ideas far into the future, they need to stand the test of time.”
From Ateliers Jean Nouvel: One Central Park embodies Nouvel’s consideration for long-term sustainability
Thankfully, many new and exciting sustainable resources and materials are being developed. From the widespread popularity of the LEED building standard to an increased availability of sustainable building materials, architects have more tools at their disposal than ever before. Still, Nouvel’s words ring true; the projects we build today need to be able to adapt to the challenges of tomorrow. Everything from the locally surrounding ecosystems to the durability of materials needs to be considered. What will the natural environment look like in 5, 10, or even 50 years? How can our buildings withstand those changes? These are the questions that must be asked in order to create buildings that stay relevant.
William McDonough: Treat nature as a model
To many A&D professionals, William McDonough is synonymous with sustainable design. This sustainability trailblazer earned the first EPA Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award and a host of others, and he designed the acclaimed Ford Rouge plant, which still serves as a beacon of sustainability with an enormous living roof.
In 1992, McDonough created the Hannover Principles, a set of guidelines for sustainability. His eighth principle says: “Understand the limitations of design. No human creation lasts forever and design does not solve all problems. Those who create and plan should practice humility in the face of nature. Treat nature as a model and mentor, not as an inconvenience to be evaded or controlled.”
McDonough’s statement goes hand in hand with Nouvel’s. Since sustainable design ultimately draws inspiration from nature, it’s only natural that it should also emulate nature. When problems are encountered in the built environment, look to nature for potential solutions. Projects that work seamlessly with nature can give back to the surrounding environment. This approach has led to innovations like biomimicry and energy positive buildings that bring the built environment closer to nature than ever before.
Glenn Murcutt: Choose your materials mindfully
Glenn Murcutt is often called Australia’s most famous architect. The only Australian winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, Murcutt is a vocal proponent of sustainability. A quick look at his projects reveals a studied balance between design and nature. (Check out the biophilic Australian Islamic Centre.) His guiding ethos: to “touch the earth lightly.”
From Architecture AU: The Murcutt-designed Australian Islamic Centre is a sustainable masterstroke
Material selection is a large part of that ethos. As Murcutt puts it, “It’s about: where did that material come from? What damage has been done to the land in the excavation of that material? How will it be returned to the Earth eventually, or can it be reused, can it be recycled, can it be put together in a way that can be pulled apart and changed and reused?” For Murcutt, touching the earth lightly means considering the environmental impact of every design choice, not the least of which is choosing the right building materials.
Sustainable designers have been following Murcutt’s lead and investing in green materials like reclaimed wood and recycled steel. It’s important to be able to determine a material’s impact, which is why from sourcing to processing, we continually scrutinize our processes so as to touch the earth as lightly as possible.
Rob Harrison: Water is the new energy
Rob Harrison of Harrison Architects describes what he does as “lyrical sustainable design.” As a Passive House consultant with 25 years of green design experience, Harrison combines his expertise with a passion for making beautiful spaces, and it shows in his portfolio.
In an interview with The Atlantic, he shared his thoughts on why energy is so important: “Now, it’s all about energy. Soon, finding ways to participate in the water cycle more intelligently will become even more important than demand-side conservation of energy. Water is the new energy.”
Hydropower is already a massive energy source, but it still has lots of room to grow. In the future, expect to see more architects using hydropower and other forms of clean energy.
Scott Ceasar: Keep occupant comfort in mind
Increasingly, sustainable designers are thinking about not only a project’s environmental impact but also its effects on occupants. While sustainable design aims to create more eco-friendly spaces, it must also optimize the built environment for occupants.
Scott Ceasar is one architect who deeply understands the symbiosis between sustainability and occupant enjoyment. Ceasar, a principal at Cosentini Associates, has helped to break sustainability through to the mainstream with projects like 4 Times Square.
Whereas some designers view sustainability and occupant comfort as separate issues, Ceasar says they go hand in hand. He considers how a space’s sustainable design will affect occupants: “We select systems that will go the farthest toward reducing energy usage and increasing occupant comfort.”
For Ceasar, occupant comfort is especially crucial in the workplace. “Basically, when the workspace is designed for occupant comfort, people are much more productive,” he said in an interview. “That hits the bottom line more than energy efficiency because companies spend 75 to 80 percent of their operating budgets on their employees.” That’s not to say that designers can’t have the best of both worlds; sustainably designed offices have been shown to improve productivity. The takeaway: sustainability and occupant comfort need to seamlessly mesh.
Amanda Sturgeon: Imitate nature as much as possible
Earlier I mentioned an area of design called biomimicry, and this approach of architecturally imitating nature is being practiced of the some of the world’s best designers. From insect-inspired pavilions to theaters that take inspiration from cave formations, the results of biomimicry are astounding.
International Living Future Institute CEO Amanda Sturgeon says that biomimicry is one of the keys to great sustainable design. To her, the “perfect building” is one that “is really acting as if nature would” and that “has to be a building that really deeply connects people to nature.” Architecturally, this means a building that operates in a closed loop system. In terms of design, biomimicry can be used to create that essential connection to nature.
Imitating nature can be as simple as using wood to connect occupants with natural patterns or as complex as creating entire buildings that use nature-inspired structures. Utilizing biomimicry as a platform for creative inspiration will lead to more natural spaces that resonate with occupants and have a lasting impact.
Sustainable design continues to evolve with new technology and understanding. Architects and designers are thinking into the future and creating buildings based on a broader concept of sustainability; one that embraces more than improved energy performance. With building design having a profound impact on the environment, its occupants and the economy, A&Ds have a unique ability to impart real positive change.