Sustainable Architecture: The human element

Climate change is more than just a modern-day buzzword. It is real. And it is really tragic.

According to NASA, carbon dioxide levels in the air have risen by 48% in the last 171 years, global temperature has increased by 1.18 °C since 1880, and 13% of the Arctic sea ice melts every 10 years. As a result, heat waves and other extreme weather events and stressed water sources are threatening human health, infrastructure and nature.

Every person has a role to play no matter how insignificant it may seem. This is something Veld Architects takes very seriously because the building industry and its related fields are behind 23% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. That’s why every architect in the entire world should not put pen to paper unless their design will be encompassing sustainable and regenerative design principles. Well, at least, that’s the dream.

Sustainable architecture is not just about reducing our impact on the environment but also about improving the health of humans. The two go hand-in-hand. Informed and thoughtful design can address all aspects of sustainability and the impact on human health. While the focus is generally on-site location, energy consumption, materials used and the collection, handling and disposal of waste, the finer details are just as important.

A World Health Organization (WHO) study found that humans spend up to 90% of their lifetime in the built environment. Buildings therefore need to work harder to improve the health of humans. As a result, the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) has come up with the WELL Building Standards, a set of principles that guide what buildings need to offer occupants in order to contribute to their health.

The WELL Concept encompasses the following:

  • Air – Improved air quality and ventilation
  • Light – Efficient natural light
  • Fitness – Design that encourages occupants to get active
  • Water – Access to high quality water
  • Nourishment – Healthier food options, vegetable gardens etc.
  • Comfort – Comfortable temperatures, noise levels etc.
  • Mind – Connection with nature for improved mental health

The WELL principles are near to our heart because designing homes that improve the health of the occupants is one of the cornerstones of our core beliefs. Being able to address sustainability in the same breath is no coincidence, because what’s good for the planet will be good for humans. Ann Marie Aguilar, Director of Operations, Europe at IWBI, confirms this theory in a British Land article saying: “Health and wellbeing are natural complements to sustainability.”

Here are some of the healthy home principles we implement at VELD:

  1. Improving air quality

A recent fact sheet released by the World Health Organization (WHO) earlier this spring, shows that 3.8-million people die every year from illnesses directly related to household air pollution. It also indicates that half of the world’s pneumonia deaths in children under five years old can also be traced back to household air pollution.

The air quality in homes has to be a priority. In applying passive (natural) ventilation strategies, wind-driven and buoyancy-driven ventilation naturally force the flow of air in and out of a home.

Applying passive ventilation is incredibly beneficial on multiple levels. It saves energy, reduces a home’s carbon footprint and operating costs, and it improves the quality of the indoor air and the temperatures.

  1. Connecting humans to nature and the natural landscape 

What our senses experience (hear, smell, see, touch and taste) have the ability to drastically affect our mood and increase or decrease our stress levels. Environments that cause us stress will physically increase our blood pressure, heart rate and suppress our immune systems. Multiple studies over the last decade have shown that humans and nature are linked, which is why time in, and views of nature improves our wellbeing on a physical, mental and spiritual level.

At Veld Architects, we ask ourselves how we can design a home so that it encourages a connection with nature, allows more natural light and fresh air in, and includes ample views of the surrounding landscape…

Something as simple as the choice of roof can tick all of the boxes.

A mono-pitch roof, which has a one-directional slope, is an excellent choice because it opens the home to an abundance of natural light and panoramic views of nature. This type of roof is also perfect for solar panels and effective rainwater drain off.

  1. Ensuring that water steals the show

Water is an important part of being human. Not only are we 60% water but we are also genetically drawn to the sound and sight of it (rain, crashing waves, rippling rivers etc.). A home fountain is a clever way to get the health benefits of water at home, but this is just the beginning of water’s role here.

As a water scarce country, with only 490 mm of rainfall per year, we need to preserve this precious resource. One way to do this is by harvesting rainwater. At VELD we have experimented with various designs that add creative flair to a home. Furthermore, we need to design homes that can accommodate greywater systems into the design. VELD loves the Hydraloop solution, which allows households to clean and reuse up to 85% of their household water.

Creating a healthy home is something that is particularly important with regards to our children. Studies have shown an increase in asthma (toxic air), mental health issues (lack of access to nature) and obesity (lack of active play) in children and these are all things the built environment can address.

How we build, where we build and what we build with – all of these affect the health of occupants. That’s why it is vital to explore regenerative, sustainable and greener design principles in architecture.

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Make your next home a VELD home.

 

Love

Xxx

Gill

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