‘Eco Architecture’, sometimes termed ‘Sustainable Architecture’ or ‘Eco Friendly Architecture’, is a phrase that describes architecture which is heavily focused on reducing the carbon footprint of the construction and life of a building, area or volume of space.
‘Eco’ refers to the ecological aspect, as decisions made during the design of buildings have direct impact, both good and bad, on the building’s immediate and wider ecological surroundings.
ECO ARCHITECTURE IN DOMESTIC CONTEXTS
When thinking about domestic or private residential architecture it’s quite common for people to believe they are creating ecologically sound architecture by adding solar PV or ground source heat pumps and so on. Yes, these do reduce the draw needed from the national grid for operational utilities such as gas and electric, but consider for a moment that beautiful Indian stone that you have laid in your kitchen – where did it come from? Well if it’s real, India of course – and how did it get to your kitchen floor? Through various means of transportation, such as planes, boats and lorries that all churn out harmful gases into the earth’s atmosphere and burn up our natural resources. So it’s all very well putting solar panels on a roof (which at least is a step in the right direction), but we need to address the underlying root of the problem.
In order to move forward as an industry, we need to try and get domestic clients to want to specify local materials not look through home design magazines and be completely detached from where the materials for their home are coming from. This is how we can start to truly bring down the construction eco footprint, allowing us to start making up for the massive carbon footprint it cost to build the house right from the word go.
COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS AND ECO ARCHITECTURE
The commercial world of architecture also has similar issues. Huge concrete or steel frame structures take a massive amount of energy just to be constructed and then often, as wide open plan offices, they need a lot of heating and cooling which requires energy. In recent years it has been common for planning and building regulators to put in place requirements that help to mitigate this high volume of imbedded energy for large mass buildings such as skyscrapers, office block or housing developments. They are required to bolt on “eco credentials” and gain BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology) points. An example of this would be a series of flushing toilets in an office block being fitted with short flush systems to save water.
More recently it has become important for larger construction projects to consider not only their imbedded energy in construction but also the energy required to operate them. However, it is often the case that the impact can not be sufficiently mitigated, so it falls on larger companies to pay fines or “contributions”. These are then invested in other areas/regions of the same city. For example, if the site is too small for any foliage to be included in its landscape, monetary contributions are provided to allow the building to be built but then trees planted elsewhere around the city. The detrimental effect is that this form of mitigation creates a “pay it off” culture which allows developers and large companies to kind of offset the responsibility. This attitude, if left unchecked, will in my opinion in the long term have a detrimental effect on our towns and cities and our ability to combat climate change.
SO WHAT SHOULD WE DO ABOUT IT?
We need to go back to the ‘cave man’ culture of material sourcing and specifying. The cave man did not build his/her shelter out of exotic materials from the next valley and beyond, it was too much effort. They scavenged for what they could in a surrounding region of their chosen home and created a shelter from materials available within a sensible radius. If we employed this culture into all aspects of construction (where possible) then we could reduce the imbedded carbon footprint of our buildings and through carefully considered design and “use strategy” we can later mitigate even further and lessen the impact of the life of the building as it moves forward.
Eco architecture is generally a term used by people who don’t understand what “sustainable design” really is. Modern day architecture should always be about the pursuit of encapsulating space for a specific purpose, keeping in mind the impact and consequences on the planet’s fragile eco system throughout the design and construction process.