Entries tagged with “Sustainability”.


Sustainable Design Awareness might be divided into at least two distinct categories being: 1) Peak Oil/ Alternative Energy and 2) Climate Change which is caused in part by the burning of fossil fuels and other unregulated human involvement.

It is interesting to note that while sustainable building checklists mainly focus on conserving energy and water, recycling materials, and reviving brownfield properties, it is still fair game as to where to locate the building.  For instance in LEED 2009, the only prerequisite in Sustainable Sites is ‘Construction Activity Pollution Prevention’ while it is only recommended that buildings are not located in 100 year flood plains or wetlands by offering a voluntary point in subsequent credit portions.  One could even conclude that while sustainable guidelines recognize that buildings have contributed the most damage with global warming and energy wastefulness, that a magic checklist will redeem that legacy while still building as much as possible.

Disaster mitigation introduces a different perspective in sustainable design in that it mainly addressed the aftermath of a cataclysmic event caused by a hurricane, tornado, tsunami, flood, earthquake, volcano, or mudslide.  Just as Benjamin Franklin stated “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’, preparedness can be brought into preliminary design with the intention of relying less on emergency procedures in order to save countless lives in disasters as a last resort.  It is time to re-learn how we can face catastrophes by understanding nature and when, how, and where we build to predict for these inevitable consequences.

We must first delve into the geological nature of shifting tectonic plates that overlap, separate and grind at fault lines where earthquakes, volcanoes and deepening trenches can be frequent.  These natural events cause varying major weather interactions between water and air from which result hurricanes and tsunamis causing unmanageable destruction through floods.  Secondly, we need to see how human consumption and burning of fossil fuels has created the ‘Green House effect and consequently is causing the melting of glaciers, rising sea levels, wetland destruction, wandering diseases and the extinction of biodiversity.

Ironically, these cataclysmic events have also created dramatic places such as San Francisco Bay where houses perch precariously for exhilarating views.  Historically, river deltas attracted people to build cities because of the fertile land replenished by naturally overflowing rivers and the biodiversity of flora and fauna.  As the population grew, and port trade activity increased, building sea walls, jetties, levees, and dams seemed to become an obvious if at least temporary solution.

But nature will always find a way to prevail.  The devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina can now be viewed as an engineering disaster when it is recognized that the shipping channel walls also funneled the river sediment out into the gulf towards the sea rather than allowing the naturally formed sand berms and wetlands to be replenished.  Flourishing mangroves, cedar trees, and marsh grasses which actually slow down hurricanes might have prevented the city’s sea wall levees from being breached and causing unfathomable human displacement and damage to the city neighborhoods with thousands of life lost.

Whereas much research and activism has occurred within scientific communities, legal and political entities, and from conscientious engineers and environmentalists, architects can be proactive as well and know when not to build or if designing emergency shelters and safe havens would be a more useful direction to pursue.

But then, maybe it is not the so-called technically advanced cultures, but indigenous tribes and wild animals that can only sense or detect sounds from the approaching waves long before they strike the shore and head for the hills.

Architects can look beyond paving the globe and take on their most fervent usefulness with imagination and cunning in a shifting universe.

This site’s top image of a tunnel for automobiles may seem to contradict a portrayal of sustainability, but perhaps it is more how imaginatively one interprets the picture’s possibilities.  Who is to say that the green colored tunnel is not actually the hollow stalk of a plant and the automobile within is not a miniature model run on alternative energy or even photosynthesis for that matter.

A tunnel is defined by Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary as being ‘a covered passageway; specifically: a horizontal passageway through or under an obstruction’.  Tunnels are built to get from one point to another in the shortest distance possible through mountains ranges, underneath rivers or other impasses.  Factors such as initial environmental impact, geography, engineering, demolition, construction, labor and embedded manufacturing and transport costs all need to be considered.  Inserting a structure into a mountain after blasting may not be as feasible as winding a road around the mountain through its adjacent valleys.  Tunnels under rivers may also not be economically justified as building a bridge that spans from bank to bank.  A large city such as New York incorporates both tunnels such as the Holland, Lincoln and Penn Station railway access as well as bridges such as the George Washington, Brooklyn and Verrazano which are chosen through engineering criteria and urban fabric entry and exit point availability, despite having perhaps less of today’s increasing environmental conscientiousness.

Tunnels also pose another factor of fresh air ventilation and disposal of vehicle exhaust to consider.  Energy must be provided to power the enormous fans that are necessary to blow out the toxic fumes emitted from these vehicles. Although bridges and open highways are not enclosed, utilized fossil fuel exhaust is still not lessened as it disperses into the open air.  This however raises the possibility that tunnel exhaust can be captured, directed through filters, and be re-utilized as renewed energy without further contamination of the atmosphere.  Once all automobiles are powered by cleaner sources of energy without hazardous emissions, ventilation requirements can focus on the provision of fresh air for passengers for the duration of being transported underground.  Ultimately, oxygen could be harnessed from the heavily forested ‘green roof’ of the mountain top above or be extracted from the hydraulic turbulence induced by sluice gated dams and the river‘s tidal currents moving swiftly overhead.

"Deep in the Woods" by Sanford Bender

"Deep in the Woods" by Sanford Bender

Sustainability refers to something lasting or perpetuating into the future.  This conscientiousness and accountability for the holistic world can alleviate the threat of a diminished quality of life or even species extinction caused by environmental damage, human exploitation and neglect.

This concept can be turned into action by first understanding the detrimental impact that we make by building without understanding, and then discovering harmony with the natural environment and its complex ecosystems.  Being sustainable implies not only changing the way we build, but questioning and altering our lifestyles and monetary values into an alternative that offers better health and well being through coexistence with the natural replenishing world.

From this awareness, we can develop a well thought out methodology of design prerequisites and environmental requirements for factors such as site context, mechanical systems, material resources, and indoor spaces that guides us into a bright future for successive generations of all living things.