Every June in South Africa, we celebrate National Environment Month. It is a month dedicated to raising awareness about environmental issues and promoting sustainable practices nationwide.
As the initiative invites communities and businesses to get involved through tree planting campaigns, recycling drives, beach clean-ups, educational workshops, and public awareness campaigns, opportunities to get involved are endless.
The question is clear: What can WE do?
Architecture can play a significant role in promoting sustainable practices and mitigating environmental impacts. If there is a way to include greener building practices in a project, we, as an architecture firm, always try to make it work.
Here are some top ways in which architects can make an environmental difference:
Make use of Sustainable Design Principles
Sustainable architecture focuses on designing buildings and structures that minimise their negative effects on the environment. We achieve this goal by using energy-efficient materials, implementing passive design techniques, maximising natural sunlight and ventilation, and integrating renewable energy systems like solar panels.
Include Water Conservation Measures
Water is the world’s most precious and scarce resource. We must design homes that use less water in the building process and address the issue long-term by implementing strategies that allow the building to conserve water. To do this on an ongoing basis, architects need to bring rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling, and wastewater treatment systems into a building’s design.
Use Eco-friendly Materials
We need to be mindful of construction materials’ impact on the environment. Locally sourced, low-impact materials made from high-recycled content or materials with reduced maintenance requirements should be prioritised. What kind of materials fits the bill? Natural materials like bamboo, straw, cork, hemp, stone, earth, and clay.
A VELD favourite is rammed earth walls made from the earth dug up from the site itself. It doesn’t get more local or recyclable than that.
Integrate Nature into Designs
Human beings do not thrive in isolation from nature. That is why numerous studies show that experiencing nature through sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch has a direct positive impact on the body, mind, and soul. Architects should work harder to connect humans with nature. Rooftop gardens, vertical green walls, and landscaping that promotes biodiversity are just a few examples of how this can be done.
Incorporating nature into architectural designs helps establish a harmonious connection between buildings and their surroundings. This integration promotes a greater appreciation for the environment and a sense of belonging.
Implement Adaptive Reuse of Existing Buildings
Don’t like that empty skyscraper, derelict silo, or old home sitting on the site you’ve just bought? No problem, let’s demolish it and start again, right? Sadly, this is the going norm. However, environmental preservation asks architects to think outside the box by innovatively repurposing existing structures. If you’ve ever been to the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, you’ll know it is well worth the effort.
This approach reduces resource consumption and maintains the unique identity and cultural value of the building.
Architects in South Africa can help educate the wider community on the crucial role sustainable architecture plays in environmental conservation. Going the environmentally conscious route isn’t easy. It isn’t cheaper either. But at the end of the day, if there is demand for this kind of approach, there will always be supply. And demand starts with you!
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