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Sustainable Architecture

by Tianze Li

Modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe once said, “Less is more.” This is the philosophy that drives the movement toward sustainable architecture. The goal is to minimize the negative impacts of construction on the environment, by using design methods to reduce the amount of material and energy consumption in the building process. According to the Environmental Control Directorate, “Buildings are responsible for 72% of U.S. energy consumption, 38% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 136 million tons of building-related construction and demolition debris” (Ahmed). Sustainable architecture provides an alternative. Today, let’s first build up to the sustainable landmarks, next, pave our way to the concept of minimalism, and finally, explore the world of “upcycling”.

Sustainable Landmarks

Landmarks of sustainable construction around the world demonstrate features that bring benefit to the environment. Let’s take a world tour and visit just a few. Stopping in Manchester,  the One Angel Square has computer systems that recycle waste and heat. The open atrium faces south to collect heat from the sun. The glass surface of the building changes the ultraviolet radiation into infrared as sunlight passes through. In summer, louvres on the façade open to expel hot air from the building. In winter, the opposite occurs and louvres on the façade close to maintain the warm air in the building. A further spin of the globe brings us to the Vancouver Convention Center in Canada, which has a living roof designed as a self-sustaining grassy habitat with characteristics of the coast. The roof is home to 4 colonies of 60, 000 bees that provide honey for the public restaurant. Finally, stopping by the Bahrain World Trade Center, an unprecedented pair of 42-story wind turbines offers a visually striking silhouette against the ocean. The sail-shaped buildings are designed to funnel wind through the gap to provide accelerated wind passing through the turbines. The building provides approximately 1.3 Gigawatt hours each year. This is equivalent to providing the lighting for about 300 homes, 258 hospitals, 17 industrial plants, and 33 car engines (Design & Build). The common design feature that the green buildings all share is the concept of minimalism. 

Minimalism

So what is minimalism? Minimalist architecture involves simple geometric shapes, repetition of structures, and the use of natural light. According to The Journal of the American Institute of Architects, “Minimalism began as an art movement after World War II and rose to prominence as a design aesthetic in the 1960s and 1970s.” Since then, minimalist architects have been incorporating this decoration-free style into designs. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the pioneers of this movement, created this style with extreme clarity and simplicity. His designs featured the least framework of structure possible balanced against the freedom of open space. Another pioneer architect in the field of minimalism is Zaha Hadid. According to The Guardian, she was an architect who “liberated architectural geometry, giving it an expressive identity.” Minimalism inspires buildings to produce more energy than they consume over a lifetime of use. 

Upcycling

In pursuit of efficiency in cost and resource, the future of sustainable architecture will be partnered with the repair of existing buildings. According to Aileen Kwun, author of the book Twenty Over Eighty: Conversations on a Lifetime in Architecture and Design, “The latest is Harvard University’s Center for Green Buildings and Cities and Graduate School of Design, a working prototype and “living laboratory” of an older structure that’s been renovated to become an ultra-efficient machine for living” (Kwun). Inspired by the ecosystem, buildings will be redesigned as living organisms that can breathe and adjust themselves relative to their surroundings. Statistics from the Global Status Report suggest that, “ In developed countries, roughly 65% of the total expected building stock in 2060 has already been constructed” (Birol). What is old will be made new again. A new roof will incorporate solar panels to provide renewable electrical energy. Large windows will have embedded heat and light sensors to lower the electricity consumption during the day time (Foster).

We’re already colonizing Mars, but architectural trends of sustainability are giving us plenty of reasons to get excited about the future of built environments right here on Earth. Simplicity of geometric shapes, lights of nature, and cost efficiency are incorporated into sustainable architecture to protect the environment, just as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe once said, “Less is more.” 

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