5 Important Principles for Sustainable Design

Site Analysis

Carrying out a detailed analysis of the site will help to identify the environmental pros and cons a site has to offer. As designers, we can then work with the advantages available to us instead of fighting against them. Some of the critical analysis to carry out at the start of any project is:

– Weather and Climate data – Look at current, historical, and predicted future data on sunshine, flooding, temperature, wind, rain, humidity, noise, air quality & pollution.

– Biodiversity – Understanding the type of trees, planting, wildlife, and other biodata around the site can help build a bigger picture of how best to complement or improve existing conditions.

– Services and Infrastructure – Carry out investigations into existing services and infrastructure to help guide site layouts and minimise unnecessary construction.

– Sustainable Densities – Proposing a suitable density for the site is crucial to its sustainability. Analysis of the local facilities, open spaces, access, transport and urban fabric can help determine the sustainability of the development

Building Form & Orientation

When developing the form, massing, and orientation of new developments, it is crucial to work alongside any data gathered from the initial site analysis if a sustainable design is to be achieved. Decisions early on can make considerable differences in the sustainable outcome of a project, such as:

– Determining whether new developments have adequate daylight and shading.

– Providing opportunities for effective cooling to preventing overheating.

– Adequate supply of good quality fresh air and ventilation.

Building Fabric

Selecting an appropriate building fabric is one of the essential elements of sustainable design. Many different performance outcomes can be achieved with the building fabric depending on the sustainability goals, e.g., Zero-Carbon, Passivhaus, Building Regulation compliance or simply performance improvements on the existing building fabric. There are countless options for materials, aesthetics, durability and budget, but in all circumstances, the goal is to reduce a buildings operational carbon footprint by making improvements in the following areas:

– Thermal performance – Increased insulation with minimal thermal bridging will reduce heat loss in the winter and offer protection from heat gains in the summer. The better the thermal performance, the lower the operational carbon footprint.

– Air Tightness – Poor airtightness in buildings can cause significant heat loss as warm air escapes through gaps in joints and at junctions between elements. An airtightness line must be continuous through the building.

– Daylighting – Optimising the size of glazing in a property is a careful balancing act. The goal is to maximise natural daylight whilst minimising the potential for solar gains or heat loss through the glass.

Nature and Greening

Introducing nature into a site has many advantages and should be considered one of the fundamental design elements in developing any design. It should never be an afterthought or a feature that is added after the design is finished. Some of the main advantages to incorporating nature and greenery into a project are:

– It can create a local microclimate to buffer extremes in climate fluctuations.

– It can act as solar shading while absorbing CO2 and generating O2.

– Reducing noise and pollution to improve the quality of the immediate environment.

– Supporting biodiversity and wildlife can create a more attractive environment and provide educational value.

– Reducing operational energy costs while creating desirable spaces that will increase property prices.

Life Cycle Design

The typical lifespan of a building is only around 60 years (less in commercial properties); it is, therefore, vital that we consider what happens over the entire life of the building, from construction through to demolition. Life Cycle Design is a concept that considers the environmental impact of a material or product over its lifetime. Considerations such as embodied carbon, energy use, manufacture, transportation, pollution, maintenance, demolition, disposal, reuse, or recycling are all factors that need to be evaluated when developing the design & specification.