Building with Nature

by Gillian Holl

As spring comes round there is a newfound interest in nature, I have found. Nurseries are busier than usual with people looking for trees, plants and flowers to reconnect with nature after winter. People are yearning for more greenery in the home or at the office all year round, which just amplifies the fact that nature is part of our DNA. We need it to function optimally, just as it needs us to survive. 

Over the past few decades there has been a massive influx of people into urban areas because, naturally, this is where a lot of the jobs are. Technology, trends and other forms of entertainment also consume a lot more of our time, meaning less time to spend outside in nature.

In a perfect world, nature shouldn’t be something you should have to travel to in order to connect with. It should be right there on your doorstep at home. It should surround you on your way to the shops and also at the office. It might sound unrealistic, but others are getting it right.

 

Like this Contemporary Art Gallery in the city of Paris, designed by Jean Nouvel and built in 1984.

It is essential to reconnect people to nature through architecture, and here’s why:

 

Nature exposure is linked to improved health

Countless studies have been done and the facts speak for themselves: nature heals. Of course we all know this. We can feel an instant physical and emotional change during a hike in the woods or while dipping our bare feet in a cool stream. Nature makes us happier, more peaceful and allows us to think more clearly. Exposure to nature has been linked to a reduction in amongst many recovery time after surgery, ADHD symptoms in children, cardiovascular disease, stress, anger and fear.

Nature exposure links us to each other 

Studies done by the Human-Environment Research Lab and the University of Illinois showed that people with trees and green spaces around their buildings knew more people, had a stronger connection of unity with neighbours, and were more concerned to support and help each other. Further investigation measuring fMRI brain activity showed that the part of the brain associated with love and empathy lit up when people were shown scenes of nature. 

Nature exposure could encourage an ethical relationship with nature

Global warming is an incredibly important issue we all need to be aware of and take action against within our circles of influence. The hope is that through improved exposure to nature and reconnecting with it on a daily basis more ethical relationships with nature will be encouraged.

Am I suggesting we all move out of the city? Or move to a city closer to beaches or parks? What a lovely thought, but no. I’m suggesting that we rethink the way we design any new building and encourage innovative ways to bring nature to urban areas like for example through green roofs, and other sustainable initiatives. Because at the end of the day it will be a win-win.

Architects have a leading role to play in the built environment, but it all starts with you. Not all architects have sustainable, nature-inspired designs at the heart of their mission and vision. That’s why you should choose an architectural firm that will connect your building to nature, preserve the natural topography of the site and do so sustainably with tomorrow in mind.

At Veld Architects this is what we do best. 

Let’s chat.

Email me on gillian@veldarchitects.co.za

 

Love,

Gill

How a green roof can help reduce your carbon footprint

by Gillian Holl

Globally a new movement referred to as “flight-shaming” has taken shape. People around the world are coming together to ask the public (and especially business travellers) to opt for other modes of transportation (like rail). Flying contributes to over 2% of the  earth’s carbon emissions.

Alternative eco-friendly ways of travelling in and around South Africa isn’t as developed as it is in Europe or Britain for example. That’s why SA Travel Industry started an initiative to offset carbon instead: by planting spekboom. A single hectare of spekboom can rid four tonnes of carbon from the environment per year. The Spekboom project aims to educate people on how planting enough spekboom can eventually make flights into and from SA carbon-neutral.

The building and construction industry and its related fields contribute towards 23% of the world’s carbon emissions. It makes me wonder why a movement such as “building-shaming” isn’t making headlines too? Perhaps because all of us are guilty of this…

The good news is sustainable building innovations in this field can bring down emissions drastically.

Something that is trending on this front, especially in cities overseas, is the use of green roofs. In fact, in some cities this is mandated policy. While green roofs aren’t “new”, it is most definitely brilliant. Something that city dwellers, businesses, those with limited yard space and even homes with large green scapes around them should all consider equally.

Apart from cleaning the air and producing oxygen, vegetation on roofs also:

  • Cool down the environment: Green roofs offer shade and encourages evapotranspiration, which lowers temperatures by up to 3% in urban areas, fighting the urban heat island effect.
  • Reduce energy requirements: Cooler, more insulated roofs means a more sustained indoor temperature during summer.
  • Improve biodiversity: Green roofs attract birds and insect species to our cities, offices and homes. Biodiversity has a fundamental role to play in the food we eat and the water we drink.
  • Filter rainwater: Green roofs can filter pollutants and heavy metals rainwater.
  • Protect roofs: A vegetation carpet on your roof can also extend the life of your roof by protecting it from the elements.

Greener buildings and homes also have a massive positive effect on our emotional and physical well-being.

You can make a difference where you live and where you work, simply by researching ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Why not plant a spekboom?

 

At Veld Architecture, it is one of our core beliefs to design buildings that are more sustainable. From something as simple as building orientation to more complex strategies such as eco pools, green roofs and making use of recycled materials – we aim to make buildings more eco-friendly.

Sustainable building is the future of architecture, and our firm would love nothing more than to make your project reflect this.

 

Let’s chat! 

Email me on gillian@veldarchitects.co.za 

 

Love,

Gill

Finding the right architect for your project

by Gillian Holl

The internet and social media platforms like Pinterest and Instagram have opened landowners up to a world of architectural imagination. A building can be more than just practical. It can be smart, sustainable and stylish! (The 3 S’s that make us at Veld Architects tick by the way).

Does this make the design aspect of a building as simple as taking saved “Pins” to the most affordable architect to consolidate? No! Because the role of an architect is far more complex. Yes, architects are in charge of designing the look and feel (the skin) of a building, but it doesn’t stop there. Architects need to make sure the building integrates well with the available infrastructure and network of systems in order to function as optimally as possible. They have to gain all the relevant planning permissions, make frequent site visits, and adjust plans to accommodate changes or environmental/budgetary concerns. Architects are required to liaise with construction professionals on a frequent basis regarding the feasibility of their design and they also need to ensure that these plans are followed correctly. 

Yes, architects are in charge of designing the look and feel (the skin) of a building, but it doesn’t stop there. Architects need to make sure the building integrates well with the available infrastructure and network of systems in order to function as optimally as possible.

That’s why before choosing an architectural design studio, keep the following in mind:

Reputation

Your architects will play an integral role in the entire build, from conceptualisation through to the final stages. Throughout the process your architects will be responsible to liaise with other key role players such as the municipality, contractors etc. Make sure your architects have a great name in the industry and that they are professional and accountable. This will eliminate unnecessary bottle-necks down the line.

Style

Much like you would match a photographer or dress-designer to the style you are after for an important event, you should also do the same with your architects. The reason for this is to allow for creative freedom. If you want an architect to design a unique and inspired building that will provide a great return on your investment, you need to choose a team whose projects excite and inspire you. View various firms’ online project portfolios and find a team that show diversity in their designs.

If you want an architect to design a unique and inspired building that will provide a great return on your investment, you need to choose a team whose projects excite and inspire you.

Think beyond aesthetics

A building is more than just a gorgeous shell with dramatic pavement appeal. It can be hyper functional. It can complement the surrounding landscapes, make the most of natural light and be sustainable. Apart from finding architects that can design the style of home you are after, look for a firm that looks beyond design and stays at the cusp of architectural technology. Irrespective of whether you have a traditional taste, technology has the potential to make your build easier, more cost-effective and more eco-friendly. 

Personality

The building process is not something that happens overnight. It is a journey full of obstacles that your architects will guide you through with ease. So make sure you trust the architects you choose. You’ll be in contact often and you need to feel comfortable with them to take the lead and provide expertise on matters. It is wise to set up a meet and greet to see whether they will be able to convey your ideas on to paper.

The building process is not something that happens overnight. It is a journey full of obstacles that your architects will guide you through with ease. So make sure you trust the architects you choose.

At Veld Architects, Charné and I specialise in designing sustainable contemporary buildings using Virtual Reality and other forms of cutting-edge technology. Every project is personal to us and we invest incredible amounts of time and passion.

Let’s chat about your project, email us on:

gillian@veldarchitects.co.za

charne@veldarchitects.co.za

 

Love,

Gill

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.