Top sustainable building trends and the role architects should play

by Gillian Holl

Conserving and protecting the earth’s natural resources is something absolutely every government, every industry and every consumer should take seriously. The building and construction industry (directly and indirectly) contributes to around 23% of the world’s carbon-dioxide emissions. Sustainable building should be a priority for the future of our homes, neighbourhoods and cities. Some parts of Europe, America and the UK are already leading the way with ground-breaking initiatives, and the potential for South Africa is huge!

Sustainable building trends such as smart technology, improved water preservation, garden roofs and green spaces are of course very topical, but I would like to highlight three areas that are particularly interesting to our architectural firm at the moment.

Rehabilitating old buildings through adaptive reuse and clever architectural solutions…

Trend #1: Degrowth

Water and soil are two of the world’s scarcest natural resources. Rehabilitating old buildings through adaptive reuse and clever architectural solutions have given way to a “Degrowth” trend that has a lot of potential. Our cities have so many derelict buildings that could benefit greatly from architectural revival projects. Just think about the impact it could have on the current accommodation and job shortages in our cities…

A great read on this topic, particularly within the South African context is  10+ years 100 Projects – Architecture in a Democratic South Africa”. The book contains the best final-year architectural student dissertations from all eight of SA’s universities over the last decade. It is truly inspirational to see how useful, positive and striking our cities’ current dilapidated and unused buildings could be if we focussed more on adaptive reuse.

The Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town is perhaps one of SA’s most successful and well-known rehabilitated buildings to date. The old grain silos at the V&A Waterfront, which were built in the 1920s, were sustainably rebuilt into Africa’s largest museum. And it is gorgeous!

Trend #2: Innovative materials

New innovative materials (or new applications for traditional materials), sourced locally, are also creating interesting ripple effects in the industry. Precast concrete is just as weather-resistant as concrete, yet far more sustainable. Bamboo is a great substitute for hardwood flooring and recycled aluminium or steel beams are also more sustainable than wooden beams. 

Trend #3: Zero Energy Buildings

Zero energy buildings generate the same amount of energy used by the building annually from on-site renewables. This is done by using solar and passive systems to heat and cool the building, as well as installing energy efficient appliances. I am particularly fascinated with the work being done at Bugesera International Airport in Rwanda. The project includes a 30,000 square metre passenger terminal, 22 check-in counters, 10 gates, and six passenger boarding bridges all of which will be a zero energy space. Just imagine if our homes, neighbourhoods and cities followed this principal…

…sustainability projects are not conducted in isolation but instead seen as part of the greater sustainable ethos of the site, and potentially the neighbourhood and city as well. 

The role of architects in sustainable projects

As architects, we have a leading role to play in professional sustainable planning. By  collaborating with clients, construction companies, engineers and various other role players, architects can ensure that sustainability projects are not conducted in isolation but instead seen as part of the greater sustainable ethos of the site, and potentially the neighbourhood and city as well.  Professional planning also ensures that the quality of development isn’t lost in the process.

Sustainable homes and buildings can (and should) be beautiful. They can complement the natural surroundings and add value to the landscapes they are built on. At Veld Architects, we are drawn to the advantages of sustainable building. It is a fundamental part of the vision we have for our architectural consultancy, and we would love to share it with you.

“Home” an Architectural Style

By Ayanda Made

The idea of the home has always been a deeply personal, intimate and emotional part of all our lives. It is soaked with feeling. It’s a place of refuge after a long day, a very own fortress of solitude during times of hardship and I find it very interesting that when we describe our homes or imagine our home it’s always attached to a feeling that’s tied to a certain space, not place. It’s the wrapped in a blanket next to the fireplace moment in the middle of July or the room filled with laughter around the dinner table moment with close family or friends and sometimes it’s a quiet moment spent alone. Home is an incredibly sensual place, it’s always been. If home was an object it be your favourite blanket as a child and there’s a terrible misconception today in both architects and homeowners to no fault of their own of what constitutes good design for a home. Maybe it’s because before the personal camera and before taking pictures of buildings became cool, homes could always only be experienced personally using all our senses, they had to like good food almost be savoured and drunk in, in order to be fully appreciated. With this in mind, the beauty of the design of a home back then could only be judged through a holistic personal experience.

Today however in the pursuit of status and great design being more accessible through print and digital media, architecture is far more commonly being consumed in bite-size portions which are almost purely a visual overindulgence of the physical and unfortunately, we’ve come to celebrate and replicate that aspect in isolation. The home something previously so intimate and personal has been reduced to a symbol, or worse a commodity used to portray a certain image when it’s never been purely about the physical. Not the walls, roof, tiles or the overall particular style that these elements make up. I believe great architects understand this, that it’s rather the careful orchestration of these elements, how you conduct them to create spaces for life to happen that constitutes great architecture.

…it’s rather the careful orchestration of these elements, how you conduct them to create spaces for life to happen that constitutes great architecture.

Good architects play the instrument, great architects play the orchestra. What I mean by this is that great architects don’t just fetishize on the one visual and physical elements that make up a building. Instead, they orchestrate both the physical and non- physical together beautifully to deliver the imaginative architecture that these elements can create. When this happens, architecture moves from being just the art of building to the art of placemaking and it’s an incredibly contextually driven process. It takes all aspects of context into consideration.

… design cannot precede context the same way a Stage Design never precedes the contents of the play. The one informs the other.

I recently watched a famous Broadway play, The Death of a Salesman by the even more famous playwright Arthur Miller, and I believe there’s a missed lesson I’ll briefly draw attention to between the understated importance of Stage Design in drawing out the intended impact of a play and the relationship it has with importance of context in creating great architecture. What’s beautiful about Stage Design are all the props, draping, sounds and colours that are never really the focus of the play. You never really notice a stage setting’s importance and impact until it’s not there, its presence is felt and its absence renders the play absolutely flat no matter how rich the content. What I later discovered was that Stage Design always follows the contents of the play, it repeatedly asks the questions “What emotion is this scene meant to evoke?” and “What setting best conveys these emotions to the audience?” It then proceeds to dress the stage in the appropriate setting to support each act. Architecture should be re-approached in the same respect, design cannot precede context the same way a Stage Design never precedes the contents of the play. The one informs the other.

If we run with this logic when discussing and unpacking architectural design, it’s easy to see that almost all celebrated architectural styles were born from critical responses to their context. It’s when we abandon this that we design inappropriate, forgettable architecture that lacks character, and more particularly homes that are devoid of meaning and substance both to the environment and the homeowner. It’s ironic because all the styles architects and homeowners have come to love and want replicated were born from contextually responsive approaches. The various existing styles can in a few years disappear into one universal type of architecture unless everyone begins to appreciate and take pride in the unique identity context gives Architecture.

Lastly, on a personal note although this applies to all architecture there’s a unique opportunity for South African Architects and homeowners to develop a uniquely South African Architecture by responding to our extremely rich and diverse natural environment if we give ourselves the opportunity to. If we envision a future for South African Architecture there must be a commitment to be responsible in our desires for a home. The beauty is that most architects are brilliant at both the ability to accurately respond to context whilst simultaneously interpreting the needs of a client in developing appropriate spaces, at a certain point it becomes almost second nature. So, in essence actually it’s less about can we do it but rather do we want to? Let’s start imagining what a heritage of South African Architecture and homes could look like if we did.

Virtual Reality for architecture: Here to stay!

By Gillian Holl

Technological trends come and go. In architecture we’ve seen many new, innovative software solutions get replaced by the next, more advanced programme, and so on and so forth. And as we move closer to the Fourth Industrial Revolution and digital transformation, we will see even more of this. However, some technologies are undoubtedly here to stay. Like Virtual Reality.

In our field, Virtual Reality technology has evolved dramatically and will soon become an integral part of the designing and building processes of properties around the world. Virtual Reality allows people to engage multiple senses in an unrestricted 3D space. It has revolutionised the automotive, tourism, gaming and hospitality industries, and it has only just begun to pick at the surface of what it can mean for architects, their customers and collaborators.

 

Earlier this year, our team at Veld Architects started adopting the HTC Vive VR technology.

We’ve found that clients don’t always fully understand the conventional set of drawings they see in front of them. And these visualisation restrictions are often one of the largest hurdles we as architects have when it comes to communicating any new and innovative ideas to our clients. They like what they are being told, but they simply can’t envision it.

…when it comes to communicating any new and innovative ideas to our clients. They like what they are being told, but they simply can’t envision it.

VR technology is such a breath of fresh air for us and our clients. It completely transforms our ideas on paper  into an in-depth, 3D space. Our clients are able to experience every room of the house and get a better understanding of how various factors like natural light at different intervals, for example, will influence every space.

As a firm that specialises in one of a kind, exclusive contemporary residences we immediately saw the value this type of technology could unlock for us as a firm and our clients.

…visualising changes to a design as we make them.

Many software solutions are able to integrate with a range of BIM software in real-time, which allows us to:

  • better test new and innovative ideas on-scale;
  • design in real-time – visualising changes to a design as we make them;
  • effectively communicate these and other ideas to our clients visually;
  • improve feedback;
  • identify and solve potential problems quickly and efficiently; and
  • better adapt time and material consumption to suit our clients needs.

 

The different stages at which a development can be visualised i.e. an undeveloped countryside vs. the completed building in its entirety are mind-blowing. We are incredibly excited about the future of VR.

 

Want to use this technology on a leading-edge residence you are planning?

Inbox me and let’s chat: gillian@veldarchitects.co.za

 

Love,

Gill

Industry Cannibalism: A Culture of undercutting in Architecture

By Ayanda Made

We’re all familiar with the saying “The value of anything is what someone is willing to pay for it” and if you aren’t, unfortunately, it’s the underlying culture you the architect have inherited. I’d like to change your perception regarding this saying and pour the foundations for a new culture of valuing work by proposing that it is firstly the value determined by the collective producing the product or service, together with the value of what the public would associate the product or service with. But the first half of this statement is the crux of the current situation. The trick is this can only work if there is a common understanding, respect, and agreement between Architects of what that value is because if we collectively agree on the value of what we do, we get to set a standard that our clients and broader society can follow.

If you don’t believe me let’s take the economics of money for instance because this is what it’s all about, our livelihoods. We all use it, we all need it and we all wish we had more of it but for this example I want you to focus more on the whole idea of it. In its most basic it’s printed paper whether that’s a 20, 30 or 50 Rand note and chances are the A1 sheet of paper you use to print your plans on is worth a whole lot more.

So how does it work? why do we value it so much? The trick about it is we’ve all agreed as people that it has a certain value and that’s the only reason you and I can buy the things we enjoy so much with it. Quite obviously money then is only more than a sheet of paper because we have collectively agreed it has value as a group, the key ingredient being a consensus.

…where our lack of consensus lets a small percentage of professionals control the value and quality of what we produce, we not only do ourselves but our clients a horrible disservice.

If the flip side of the coin relates to the first saying where our lack of consensus lets a small percentage of professionals who lack the respect and pride in what they do and how they do it control the value and quality of what we produce in an industry as complex as architecture, we not only do ourselves but our clients a horrible disservice.

This happens in two ways:

The first is undercutting works on a bottom-up approach and is, in all honesty, a level of self-exploitation whether we realize that or not. How undercutting works then is that the lowest and not the best price sets the standard for the whole industry and although this at face value seems good for the client it also simultaneously reduces the quality of work that gets carried out as these two are almost exclusively married to each other.

The second is the idea of cannibalism in the industry which plays itself out a little like this: If professionals in an industry undercut each other for long enough, the price and quality of work produced eventually becomes the new industry standard. So, to continue to undercut in order to win work you need to drop your price and with that the quality of what you do even lower, eventually creating a cycle that causes that industry to begin to slowly collapse in itself to no fault of anyone else but its own.

This cycle if left misunderstood has the potential to spiral to the point where it just doesn’t make sense to or worth it for new, young potential architects to pursue a career in the profession or even the profession itself to exist as it does. Unfortunately for us then, this unspoken side effect becomes one where if someone is undercutting an industry standard for a set of work of a certain value and quality there’s a high likelihood someone is undercutting them, and whether it’s evident now or we see it a little down the road there is a bottom where this way of business eventually pulls down the industry as a whole.

.. I believe it’s something worth thinking about, worth talking about and worth doing something about.

So, for all of us, agreeing on a collective value as architects isn’t about overcharging or undercharging but rather creating an environment for us and our clients where they are getting, and we are providing the full value of what something is worth and reshaping this culture of cannibalism and self-exploitation. The silver lining though is that architecture in South Africa as a profession has the ability to unlike most due to its size organize itself around this new culture of agreed value and restored pride in what we do. A culture that once enjoyed a high level of respect and status in the hearts of the general public not only because of what we do but how we’ve continued to contribute to society. For those reasons alone, I believe it’s something worth thinking about, worth talking about and worth doing something about.