Why Sustainable Architecture Matters
September 21, 2020 Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz
AD&V Headquarters - Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón | Architecture & Interior Design

ABOUT THE AUTHOR | Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz is the founder and principal of the architectural firm Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón, with offices in Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Experts are estimating a large expansion in the construction industry.

Since people have become more conscious of how we’re taking care of the environment, sustainable architecture will continue to grow as customers will opt for more green building in the upcoming years.

Take a look at what it truly means for architecture to be sustainable and why it’s important amid the expanding construction industry.

SUSTAINABLE ARCHITECTURE 

Sustainable architecture is a general term that refers to buildings that are designed to limit our impact on the environment. In sustainable architecture and interior design, designers seek to minimize the negative impact of buildings on the environment by applying innovative green methods to their designs—involving energy-saving technology, sustainable materials, recycling, repurposing and other elements that support long-term ecological balance.

Sustainable design best practices not only focus on saving energy and natural resources, but also on increasing the well-being of those who work in the spaces we design, adding to their comfort, enhancing their experience, boosting their productivity, and improving the quality of their lives while reducing demand on the environment.

MINIMIZING WASTE

According to studies made by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the construction industry sends over 170 million tons of non-industrial waste to American landfills. Sustainable architecture and design work together to lessen this type of waste through:

1) Technology – Using Building Information Modeling (BIM) improves design, construction, and operation efficiencies that lead to waste reduction.

2) Reusing instead of removing – Extending the use building materials can be used as a blueprint for deconstruction, like a bill of existing materials on a building. For example, Europe is pioneering the view that a building is nothing more than a “material bank” that can and will be reused at some point down the line.

3) Extending the use of building materials – Salvaging as much of the raw material during the demolition phase of a building through the on-site material segregation of metals, cardboard, bricks etc., cuts down the need to purchase building materials that can end up in landfills.

4) Prefabrication – Moving construction “offsite” or “modular” in a controlled factory environment, shifts the traditional “crafting method” of building to an assembling philosophy, kind of like Legos. It also keeps tolerances tight and eliminates overage and scrap.

Minimizing building waste is smart business because of skilled labor shortages and the rise of material costs.

SUSTAINABLE OFFICE DESIGN

As more companies transition to remote work and people create new habits due to COVID-19, architects and designers are rethinking the design of office buildings. Here are some trends in sustainable office design to look out for in the next couple of years:

1) Wellness and purpose – Employee wellbeing will become the norm. Incorporating natural views, special lighting, and non-stressful ambiance within the indoor environment, supports the cognitive and emotional wellbeing of team members.

2) Prefabricated elements – Design elements such as demountable partitions or walls, and the use of transparent materials to support daylight use, ventilation and flexibility will be trending in the design world.

3) Adding green and vegetation – Biophilic design allows humans to connect to their natural environment through direct relationships between people and the patterns, rhythms, and textures of nature and natural materials. So, expect to see greener and biophilic office designs.

4) Zen areas – More areas for mindfulness and meditation, and congregation spaces within open balconies, green terraces etc., will be added to help maintain employees in high spirits.

5) Functional furniture – A lot of functional or multi-purpose furniture will be added to promote work in different areas of the office in order for employees to able to work wherever they see fit, while at the same time keeping the space organized.

6) Technology integration – Technology is no longer a luxury in office design. It’s an employee expectation. As a result, employers are beginning to embrace artificial intelligence (AI) almost as quickly as society has in their homes with Amazon’s Alexa, and Google Home for example.

When it comes to office and home design, sustainability’s role is the same as mentioned before. Is not only how the space is designed, but it’s also the way we build and operate the space.

WALKING THE TALK

One example of sustainable architecture and design is our AD&V Headquarters. For our office headquarters, the dual objective proposed by our AD&V founders was to set a 21st century standard for sustainable design, while preserving all the charm and character of a century-old structure.

Every space of the second level of this former girls’ school was thoughtfully re-imagined and repurposed with the following contemporary sustainable practices:

  • Solatube tubular daylight devices (TDDs) that allow for ‘daylight harvesting’ that permitting the transfer of sunlight from the outside in—providing the entire office (even the windowless interiors) with natural light.
  • Inverter air conditioners that provide 20 SEER high-efficiency, low-noise, environmentally-friendly cooling.
  • Advanced operation technology that employs interconnected daylight sensors, dimmers, occupancy sensors, and controlled electrical power management systems to conserve energy while maintaining optimal working conditions throughout the premises.

AD&V Headquarters - Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón | Architecture & Interior Design

An office retrofitted to meet strict environmental standards established by the U.S. Green Building Council, the AD&V office headquarters were awarded a LEED® Platinum certification: the first for any architecture and interior design firm in Latin America, and status that was shared by only a couple of  buildings in Puerto Rico at the time. What might surprise first-time visitors to the office is the panache with which this commitment to sustainable practices has been deployed in all three dimensions.

Neutral colors predominate, creating a blank canvas against which the actual work of the firm is allowed to shine. Walls are light gray, almost white. The artwork adorning the walls is black-and-white. Custom millwork is charcoal. Conference tables are white. Occasional pops of color turn up in expected places—and tend to be bold and green: a fitting metaphor for the work of this dynamic firm.

The sustainable design of our AD&V offices resulted in having a healthier environment, lower operating costs, maximum water and energy conservation, waste minimization, and a significant reduction of the firm’s carbon footprint.

The intent of sustainable architecture is to focus on efficiency and moderation in the use of materials, the use of energy ultimately minimizing our impact in the environment. It’s much more than design, it includes the full life cycle of a building…the design, construction and the operation. Moreover, amid the expanding construction industry, as good citizens we must balance our need to consume natural resources with the planet’s need to conserve them.

Here are some easy ways to save energy and be greener in your home if it wasn’t sustainably built!

FURTHER READING: 10 EASY WAYS TO SAVE ENERGY AT HOME

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