Each year, I like to take note of the interior design trends. And each year, sustainable design trends become more and more prominent, This year, sustainable design is leading. Architects and designers are taking pains to make great-looking buildings that are also friendlier to the environment, and that approach shows in some of this year’s best new buildings. Sustainability adds more value for a building’s local environment as well as its occupants. Gensler’s Nellie Reed writes that “green [design] adds value—long-term environmental, social, and economic value. This is the growing consensus, and it’s starting to reshape the office real estate market.”
So what do the current sustainable design trends look like? Here are a few of the biggest sustainability trends that are redefining commercial architecture.
Biophilic Design Melds Sustainability and Wellness
Sustainable design trends often cross paths with biophilic design, which is also one of the largest trends this year. Both sustainable and biophilic design involve utilizing natural elements within design, although the two have different objectives. Whereas sustainable design aims to create more eco-friendly buildings, biophilic design works to make buildings healthier for humans. Some of the best and most progressive buildings in the world combine these two schools of thought, and the results are inspiring.
Take Seattle’s Bullitt Center, a six-story office space that’s billed as the “Greenest Commercial Building.” From the start, it was designed with sustainability in mind, and it boasts an extensive list of green accomplishments. The building is outfitted with solar panels, rainwater treatment systems, and a ground-source heat exchange system, all of which result in a net-positive energy environment. Additionally, the building materials were carefully handpicked so as to avoid 14 categories of chemicals. Impressively, as of 2015, the Bullitt was the world’s largest certified Living Building Challenge (LBC) facility.
Best of all, the Bullitt Center exhibits many biophilic features as part of its sustainable core. The Bullitt Center is the first timber-framed structure to be permitted in Seattle since the 1920’s, workspaces use ample amounts of reclaimed wood to connect workers to nature, and large, fully operational windows provide unobstructed views of the outdoors and fresh air. In addition, the long vertical windows provide ever changing patterns of light and shadow particularly in the staircase that truly encourages occupants to take the stairs. The Center chose clean biophlic building materials as fewer chemicals make the built environment healthier and reduce building-related illnesses like Sick Building Syndrome.
Buildings like the Bullitt Center have led the way for more recent projects to combine sustainability and biophilia. That more contemporary buildings are following in the Center’s footsteps is proof of its innovative design.
Multi-use Spaces Reduce the Need for New Buildings
Sustainable design is about more than green building materials and environmental initiatives. For a building to be sustainable, its architects and designers have to consider the long term impact. This is a major part of programs like LEED, which considers long-term commitment to its standards when certifying buildings. Usability also factors into the long term impact of a building. Namely, a multi-use space will be more sustainable over time because it can change and adapt to new occupant needs.
One of the biggest benefits of multi-use spaces is a reduced need for new construction. Instead of building spaces for specific functions, architects and designers are creating buildings that can serve a wide range of uses. Many offices are also considering different types of work and collaboration when building, resulting in multifunctional lobbies and adaptable workspaces. As Building Design & Construction reports, multipurpose spaces and load sharing opportunities will be major concerns for interior design this year and beyond.
This is also why many buildings are starting to use more modular design, which is incidentally another one of this year’s interior design trends. Modular design helps to unlock the potential of a space and allow occupants to change it to meet their needs. CallisonRTKL architect Grace Lennon notes that modular combines necessity and creativity in design. This pairing is evident in buildings like BOY Siam Square Salon in Bangkok, which a modular rail-based design to allow occupants to use mirror and shelving units throughout the space.
Green Certifications Are Going Mainstream
Due to the ever-growing interest in sustainable design, buildings now have more options than ever for pursuing certifications that prioritize environmental friendliness and wellness. LEED is undoubtedly the industry standard. Its rigorous requirements and keen focus on sustainability make it the building standard of choice for architects and designers seeking to be more mindful of the environment. In 2016, there were already over 80,000 projects around the world participating in LEED, and that number is steadily increasing.
LEED also provides a springboard for further implementation of green building elements, inspiring designers to go above and beyond the basic requirements. In a press release, Perkins+Will President and CEO Phil Harrison said that “LEED certification is just one marker of our commitment. We strive to go beyond what’s currently accepted to create buildings that move the marker of what’s considered sustainable forward.”
In the last several years, a host of other standards have risen up to provide complementary programs to the stalwart LEED. The Living Building Challenge encourages built environments that are self-sufficient, biophilic, and beneficial to natural systems. Seven performance areas, called Petals, are analyzed during the certification process to evaluate the positivity of a building’s impact on its environment. In terms of energy efficiency, Energy Star and Passive House are two other standards that encourage net zero and/or net positive energy usage. The WELL Building Standard, like LBC, has a biophilic focus. WELL looks to advance human health and wellness by creating healthier buildings.
Many buildings choose to pursue numerous certifications, as various programs overlap and thus work hand in hand. The Bullitt Center, for instance, has earned both Living Building Challenge and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Project (the first commercial building to do so in the US) certifications. The two programs mesh nicely. FSC Project Certification is specific, requiring the timber used to be FSC certified. LBC focuses on positive sustainability on a large scale, requiring wood be FSC or salvaged. Many businesses opt to use especially eco-friendly FSC certified reclaimed wood. Recently, LBC and WELL have begun working collaboratively to find ways to align their two rating systems.
Sustainability is Adapting to Mitigate Climate Change
Today’s buildings must adapt to the effects of climate change in order to be truly sustainable. Sustainable design––which reduces energy emissions, promotes green building materials, and positively affects the local environment––is instrumental to this overarching goal. In fact, many built environments are turning to sustainable design chiefly to adapt to climate change. To that end, green standards like LEED encourage building design that consumes fewer precious resources and emits less carbon dioxide, both of which can help alleviate climate change.
Of course, building materials play an important role here. Using materials that are less taxing on the environment is ideal. This explains the uptick in reclaimed wood usage; it’s one of the best ways to lower a building’s carbon footprint and avoid further greenhouse gas emissions.
On the other side of the coin, architects and designers are seeking to improve resiliency in order to defend buildings from the effects of climate change. Many buildings are susceptible to flooding and other natural disasters due to climate change, so resiliency is fast becoming a key focus for sustainable design. As a result, new initiatives like RELi are emerging to enhance resiliency. RELi is an up-and-coming resiliency standard developed by Perkins+Will senior project engineer Doug Pierce, and it aims to create a codified system to protect buildings from calamity. Pierce argues that “resiliency is the next step in the entire green ecological design framework,” and it’s a concept architects and designers will need to think carefully about from now on.
This year’s trends underscore the fact that sustainable design is shifting to meet the environment’s needs, and they’re indicative of where the Architecture & Design industry is headed as a whole. Understanding these trends will ultimately allow architects and designers to create buildings that are better for the people who occupy them and for the future of the earth and the climate.