News / Sustainable Buildings: Their benefits, features and challenges

Sustainable architecture is architecture that seeks to minimise the negative environmental impact of buildings by efficiency and moderation in the use of materials, energy, and development space and the ecosystem at large. Sustainable architecture uses a conscious approach to energy and ecological conservation in the design of the built environment. The idea of sustainability, or ecological design, is to ensure that our use of available resources does not have detrimental effects to our shared well-being or make it impossible to obtain resources for other uses in the long run

Sustainable Buildings
If you look at older buildings, you can see that people in the past were very good at adapting to climate to get the maximum performance from their buildings naturally, but we have lost this mindset and now rely on central heating, ventilation systems and electric lighting to be available at the press of a button or turn of a dial. Some buildings with special functions do need sophisticated systems but for a large proportion of building types we can use simple strategies to be comfortable all year round.

Traditional approach
Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) is the technology for indoor environmental comfort control. Its goal is to provide thermal comfort and acceptable indoor air quality. Ventilation includes both the exchange of air to the outside as well as circulation of air within the building. These systems are one of the most energy-intensive components in a building after construction itself ; some architecture practices like Native are aiming to reduce the impact of the heating and cooling processes which is called a fabric first approach and can avoid the need for heating systems completely – yes that’s right you can avoid the need for heating systems completely which in rural areas where fuel choice can be limited is a major consideration.

Bioclimatic buildings are built with design and construction methods that are based on the local climate. They aim to be comfortable and aesthetically pleasing by using solar energy and site-specific conditions to minimise the use of materials – particularly synthetic materials based on chemicals and crude oil. Instead of fighting nature, this type of architecture works with nature, and its principles date back many centuries. It is essential that designers take climate, vegetation, soil, geography, and topography into account while making building plans to create a comfortable place for people to work and live. A deep knowledge of solar gain, natural ventilation flows, heating solutions, insulation and the thermal storage of the building are required to harness the power of nature to benefit construction and the environment.

These are some of the most common features of sustainable and bioclimatic buildings:

• Considerate of location, weather, ecosystems, and hydrography of the environment to maximize performance and  lessen overall impact
• Make the most of orientation for wind and sunlight patterns
• Use locally sourced building materials
• Use low-impact construction techniques
• Reduce energy consumption for heating, cooling, lighting, and equipment
• Minimise overall energy balance throughout construction and during use
• Employ passive cooling systems to remove heat that accumulates during the summer through natural ventilation at night
• Natural finishes and materials for floor wall and ceilings to reduce chemical off gassing

A Case Study

The refurbishment of an existing building in Yorkshire using minimal technology and natural materials.

A 19th century traditionally constructed clamp brick building comprises the main two storey granary with open plan floor layouts which have been maintained with outside access to the first floor via a flight of traditional stone steps. To the rear is a single storey brick outbuilding that has been refurbished to form the kitchen and WCs. The building demonstrates our practice ethos of context specific environmentally sensitive design taking the site location as the starting point for the design approach.

The building work was carried out as a self-build project utilising our practice resources; the Native team completed all the work except for the electrical installation, telecoms, finishes and some fittings. The philosophical approach to the conversion was that of a conservation project for a traditional non-heritage building. No new bricks were required for example, building elements were only replaced if beyond repair. Truth to materials, use of traditional, low carbon and natural materials throughout with a high level of recycling was central to our fabric first approach and our commitment to sustainability. We used a palette of low embodied energy materials which included Yorkshire grown construction grade hemp cast against the solid brick walls for insulation; hempcrete blocks; wood fibre floor, wall and roof insulation; reclaimed plywood for wall finishes and joinery; recycled roof timbers; and hot lime for repointing and internal plaster finishes.

Since the building was completed we have carried out an analysis of the internal air quality compared to other commercial buildings and the results as you might imagine show low concentrations of BTEX gases such as Toluene, Ethyl Benzene, M/P – Xylene, O-Xylene and zero Benzene.

Bioclimatic buildings are one branch of green construction technology, and an important branch that can help curb energy consumption and make life more comfortable and affordable and reduce the production of greenhouse gases.

One of the first requests clients often make is we want lots of glass in our building. Architectural design seems to be synonymous with large areas of glazing. In many peoples’ minds there is an extremely close connection between them, so that you cannot think of one without also thinking of the other. At Native we try to think differently……