Sunday, 3 October 2010

Environmental Sustainability and Design

Environmental Sustainability and Design

Liberty Thompson

Interior and Environmental Design


Over the past five decades environmental sustainability has become an increasing issue for society due to our overuse of the world’s natural sources of energy and materials. In the “Bill of Rights for the Planet”, William McDonough Architects stated that ‘placing environmental and social sustainability at the core of practices and professional responsibilities’’ should be top priority for designers today (Braungart, McDonough, 2009, pg. 25). ‘By 2050 it is likely that the world will double it’s demand for energy’ (Edward, 2010) meaning we have to find renewable sources to use instead of finite natural materials. Use of the Earths natural sources, like wind, rain and sun are increasingly being used in design and engineering to create sustainable and environmentally friendly spaces. Climate change and global warming are visible outcomes of us damaging the environment and proves it is vital to make social, political and economical changes to save the planet. Sustainable Environmental Design would mean creating a standard of buildings that emit zero carbon without the extra cost (Hardy, 2008). Not only do we need to design for now, but also for the unknown changes and problems that will arise in the future.


The first record of Environmental Sustainability in design was in Ancient Greece in 500BC who used solar power for heating in their buildings. Their study of the sun pattern influenced the layout of buildings to face the south so they could receive most sunlight. This developed the grid like layout of towns and cities, an idea still used in design today.

In the 19th century ‘nature itself was perceived as “mother earth” who, perpetually regenerative, would absorb all things and continue to grow’ (McDonough, 2008, pg. 25). Society was unaware natures sources were finite.

The Industrial Revolution meant increased mass production in products, architecture, population and factory life. Natural capital of materials like ore, timber, water and natural gases were used in disregard to the fact they would run out (Braungart, McDonough, 2009). Aswell as this the booming industry meant rapid increase in pollution from factories and new transport like cars etc, causing irreversible damage. The environment was being used as a ‘dustbin’ (Hardy, 2008). Carbon consumption rose due to increase in population and availability of new technology at an affordable price. People were unaware of the damage societies’ consumerism had, buying and throwing away without any consideration to the affect it was having on the environment. Recycling and reusing was not deemed important. In the US, it is said that over 90% of materials used to products becomes waste almost instantly (McDonough, 2008). Even today when we have more knowledge, every individual creates 3-4 pounds of waste a day of a variety of products. In The Rough Guide to Sustainability it states that one quartre of mobile phones are disregarded each year (Edward, 2010). Over many years immense amount of waste has collected in boglands and landfills across the world, damaging the ozone layer contributing to global warming.

Global Warming and climate change has brought many problems to the environment and peoples’ lives. Natural disasters such as tsunamis, droughts and flooding have become more frequent, with devastating outcomes for people and animals.


Images of the Emergency Sandbag Shelter (anon, 1999-2010)

Designers have had to develop strategies to aid people, animals and their habitats in these situations. The Emergency Sandbag Shelters are small habitats designed as a quick, sustainable and efficient response to natural disasters. using war materials of sandbags and barbed wire along with locally sourced materials, these structures ‘utilise the most available material in the world. Earth’ as stated by Nader Khalili (Cal-Earth, 1999-2010). Although designs like these would never have been needed if people hadn’t harmed our world, this simple but effective design proves it is possible to be carbon neutral and sustainable even in the worst conditions.

Global warming is the build up of heat trapping gases in the atmosphere due to our demanding cultures (McDonough, 2008). It has been affecting our climate in various ways, making summers hotter, wetter weather, altered sea patterns and shifting in seasons. Not only does this mean more sever storms and flooding, but therefore destroys living environments for people and animals. Species have died out, or are dying out because of this.

Changes towards sustainability of the environment have been happening over the past five decades. Society has become more aware to the importance of maintaining a healthy environment. Political focus in the 1970s was on reducing energy scarcity, in 1980s global warming was societies main concern and in 2000s, sustainability and design for health and poverty were recognised as our biggest issue in need of help (Edwards, 2010).

Design and Environmental Sustainability

Although all fields of design should consider the environment through their process and production, architects, urban, industrial, interior and landscape designers play a huge role in developing an environmentally sustainable future to the way we live. To do this thought has to go into every aspect of the design, from the materials to how the design is used on a day-to-day basis. Consideration has to go into what happens to it after it’s main purpose has been met (Braungart, McDonough, 2009). Architects and engineers have to recognise the need to use renewable energy sources as 75% of non-renewable energy is used in building construction. Air, water, wind and sunlight all have the potential to be used in design as renewable energy, which would reduce the carbon footprint. Designers’ and engineers alongside have created new technologies that do this. Use of these natural sources is becoming more common with technologies such as solar photovoltaic, solar thermal and using geothermal energy. The Solar Wind Pavilllion by Micheal Iantzen uses wind power, solar energy and reuses rainwater to create a fully sustainable and environmentally friendly hang out space without missing out on new technologies – this having 360degree projection screen.

Elavation diagram showing The Solar Wind Pavillions design. (Heimbuch, 2007)

Advancing technologies are resulting in more environmentally friendly architecture. This suggests great potential for the future. An example of this is the Smarthouse. The technology and design mean you are in complete control of your carbon and energy expenditure to reduce it. Ironically however, new technology such as 3D printers and lazer cutters expend more energy (Hardy, 2008).

Smarthome and it’s energy system. (Heimbuch, 2008)

Not only single housing designs are considering energy expenditure, but towns and cities are developing as completely sustainable habitats. Techniques like the Smart Growth theory which works to avoid urban sprawl and keeps everything in walkable or cycleable distances to reduce carbon consumption. A variety of housing options are available and only local sources are used to create a community that share, reuse and recycle. In the new energy strategy ‘Zero Carbon Britain’ it is said it is possible to cut our expenditure of carbon from 637tonnes per year, to zero by 2030 (Kemp, M., et al, 2010). These strategies amongst others contribute to this.

Other aspects of sustainable architecture include greentop houses, greenhouses, raised housing (to protect from flooding), air channelling designs, sky and LED lighting, more efficient use of natural light and grey water recycling amongst others. At the World Summit of Sustainable Development 2002, it was promised there would be an increased effort in the development of solar power systems, clean energy technologies being used and fuel poverty decreased by half (Edwards, 2010).

Environmental design is defined by actions that affect the social and built landscape (Manzini and Vezzol, 2008). In the ‘Call for Tectonics’, the authors state the need for;

… ‘new materials and organisational tectonics capable of both anticipating and coping with the future. This co-evolution of environments and buildings will affect our spatial, social, economic and political situations.’ (Manzini and Vezzol, 2008, pg. 15).

Architects, designers and engineers have ethical responsibility for future generations to enable them to be able to cope and develop new strategies for carbon reduction, waste prevention and to enable the maintenance of environmentally sustainable lifestyles.


American Society of Landscape Architects, 2010. Sustainability Toolkit: Environmental Models [online} Available at: [Accessed 30 September 2010].

Basantani, M., (2007), Solar Wind Pavilion by Michael Jantzen, Inhabit –Green Design Will Save the World, [image online], Available from: [Accessed 30 September 2010].

Braungart, M. and McDonough, W. (2009), Cradle to Cradle. Remaking the way we make things’, London: Vintage.

Cote, R., Shu-Yang, F., and Freedman, B., (2004). Principles and practice of ecological design’, Environmental Reviews. 12: 97-112.

Edwards, B. (2010), Rough Guide to Sustainability. 3rd Edition’, London: RIBA Publishers.

Edited by Hardy, S. (2008), Environmental Tectonics: Forming Climate Change’, London: AA Publishers.

Heimbuch, J., (2008), Agilewaves Shows Off User-Friendly Home Energy, [image online], Available from: [Accessed 30 September 2010].

Kemp, M., et al, (2010), Carbon Zero Britain 2030, Wales: CAT Publications.

Monitoring System at WCG 2008 Showhouse, [image online], Available from: [Accessed 2 Oct 2010)

Manzini, C. and Vezzoli, E. (2008), Design for Environmental Sustainability, Italy: Zanichelli editore SpA.

Anon, (2009) Sustainable Design, Climate Change and The Built Environment. Architecture and the Built Environment, London. Available from: [Oct 1 2010].

Anon, 2008, Cities and Climate Change Adaption, Seville. Available from: [Accessed 1 October 2010].

Anon, (1999-2010), Emergency Sandbag Shelter. A spin off from Khalili’s Lunar/Planetary Habitat. California: Cal-Earth Inc./ Geltaftan Foundation. Available from: [Accessed 1 October 2010].

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