Attainable Sustainable Design

Technical advice, case studies and additional resources for low-energy design

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    What IS Sustainable Design? Part 1

    Amy Leedham
    Oct 10, '11 11:48 AM EST

    The word sustainable gets thrown around a lot these days and most people don’t really now what it means. I have put ‘part 1′ in the title because I believe that sustainable design is a continually evolving concept and it is difficult to define it in a few hundred words.

    Merriam-Webster’s American dictionary defines sustainable as follows:

    1. Capable of being sustained

    2. of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged

    3. of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods

    The definition seems straightforward but is still fairly vague which is why it can be used in many different ways by, well everyone. A developer trying to sell units in his new building will say it is a sustainable design because they installed low-energy light bulbs. Most people would believe the developer and yes technically installing light bulbs that use less energy is more sustainable that using traditional light bulbs, but is it enough to earn the sustainable title? Obviously there is no regulatory system that can punish someone for hyperbolizing the ‘green-ness’ of a building or a product, but this is where being informed about techniques and strategies that have an impact on your daily energy use will help to decipher between levels of sustainability.

    There are some who argue that the western lifestyle itself is not sustainable by definition because we use more energy than we create. This is where turning to passive strategies and renewable energy can help reduce and eventually eliminate your dependency on the grid. In essence sustainable design, the way I understand and practice it, aims to provide the best living/working/healing/playing environment for the people using it while also reducing or eliminating the dependency on non-renewable energy sources. It is a combination of looking back at vernacular strategies and reinterpreting them to apply to modern life while also integrating the latest renewable technologies to provide innovative solutions to both architectural and energy issues.

    Approach to Sustainable Design

    ◦First consider the function of the building or space: What type of activity will take place there and what will the people be doing. Who will be using it and for what duration and frequency

    ◦Next asses the site conditions and climate: What are the constraints that limit passive strategies (too hot in summer, too cold in winter, lack of solar radiation etc..) This will give clues as to what environmental responsibilities the building will have to achieve and will help inform spatial organization, massing and general materiality.

    ◦Define the environmental requirements of the specific spaces within your building. This will help to refine passive and active strategies as the design develops.

    ◦This is not a sequential process but rather a lateral one and you will re-visit the climate conditions or the basic function several times throughout the design process.
    Some of the items I post will apply to people in my profession and may seem over the heads of someone just looking for general tips.

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A discussion on everything to do with sustainable design. From renewable energy to implementing integrated design in professional practice. Case studies, article reviews and green building certification methods and additional resources will all be included.

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