There’s a growing desire to live in homes built with sustainable materials and that contribute to a healthy environment. It’s a welcome trend, since the construction industry consumes a third of the planet’s resources (according to the United Nations Environmental Programme) and generates a staggering amount of waste. The good news is the design and construction industries are developing practices that aid the environment and have long-term economic advantages.
Architects, designers, engineers and construction companies are integrating modern ecological design and materials to improve the energy efficiency of homes. In choosing materials, they take into account how much energy went into making them, how long they will last, and whether they can be recycled or composted. These products include so-called “smart” materials, such as glass that switches from transparent to translucent according to the conditions. Site and construction choices can also limit
There are different certification systems that provide guidance as to how buildings should be designed and constructed for maximum sustainability. Breeam is used inmany countries and has been established the longest. Its assessment categories include land use and ecology, materials, energy, health and well-being, pollution, transport and water.
In his latest book, New Eco Homes, Manel Gutiérrez showcases 22 luxury residences built using environmentally clever strategies. “In no way does sustainable design forget about the beauty and emotion of aesthetic sensibility in architecture,” he writes. “New eco homes can be as beautiful, warm, comfortable and functional as any other kind of home.”
The Areopagus Residence in Costa Rica, designed by Paravant Architects, is one of the buildings featured in the book. The house blends harmoniously into its mountainous surrounds and incorporates five green themes: landscape integration; the use of recycled materials; rainwater collection and the use of grey-water recycling to minimise water waste; passive photovoltaic solar energy; and passive cooling by cross-ventilation and a swimming pool as a cooling pond.
Paravant’s Christian Kienapfel says his company, whose main offices are in Los Angeles and Stuttgart, Germany, begins every project by assessing the location, researching the site, and understanding all its natural and manmade environmental conditions. “We also evaluate the building shape and size, as well as take care to understand the client’s requirements and how the future occupants are intending to interact with the building.”
Kienapfel points out that environmentally responsible design has always existed but, for a variety of reasons, many of the basic principles have been ignored and are now being rediscovered. He believes the next few years will see much change in design and construction, with the creation of many more “zero” and “plus-energy” buildings—those that require no energy from outside sources or actually produce more energy than they use.
He also thinks international building codes will become more restrictive, imposing greater pressure for the creation of eco homes. “We are very excited to be working on a zero/plus-energy home that will break ground this spring and will be completed by the end of the year. This will be the norm within the next 10 years,” says Kienapfel.
One of the most important aspects in making a building as efficient as possible is passive solar design, says New Zealand architect Tim Dorrington. A key factor is optimal orientation of the house in relation to the sun. “The composition of the spatial planning provides areas of shade, protection from wind, and indoor and outdoor living opportunities,” says Dorrington. Other factors include placement of windows for crossventilation, and provision of thermal mass to moderate the home’s temperature when the outside temperature rises or falls.
His firm, Dorrington Atcheson, designs largely for the residential sector and numbers the Easterbrook House in the Auckland suburb of Titirangi among its projects. Dorrington says he has a passion for a reduced aesthetic by keeping the spatial planning and overall composition simple; a desire for “honesty” of building methodology, materials and structure in allowing the building to speak for itself, with no faux elements; and a drive to let buildings function naturally and sustainably in their location. He says it won’t be long before all homes are built with the environment in mind.
Green house design is “what old indigenous and colonial homes in Singapore once did very well,” says Singapore designer Cecil Chee. “It’s the trading—or perhaps forgetting—of these [indigenous and colonial] parameters for glass and air-conditioning, and having little regard for the effects of rain, sunshine, humidity and breezes, that have resulted in energy-guzzling, awkward homes.”
Chee’s company, Wallflower Architecture & Design, is responsible for the elegant and serene Water-Cooled House. Built in a lush location, its design uses landscape integration, natural ventilation, passive cooling and ample daylight, and incorporates excellent insulation. “The owner requested a home that would remain passively cool through the day and the year,” says Chee.
“It uses water as both a cooling and an aesthetic device for resisting the heat of the tropical sun. Eaves are kept very deep—even in the midst of a tropical storm, the windows can be kept open and the rain enjoyed. The overflow from rain is stored so that the ponds can be topped up when needed and the gardens watered.”
Chee says the house stays cool throughout the year even though it’s in tropical Singapore, but more importantly, its design “does not distract the eye from the beauty of the lush gardens, the orange streak of koi gliding through a 40-metre air-well pond, or the bird that takes a refreshing drink from the pool surrounding the living room pavilion.”
Hong Kong architects are also striving to deliver sustainable buildings. The firm DLN, for example, has already seen a number of its residential buildings with eco credentials built. These include The Gloucester in Wan Chai, which has earned three green awards, including the Hong Kong Green Building Council’s Beam Plus Platinum rating, and the 3-Star Green Building Label from the China Green Building Council.
The tower block has an “environmental-passive green building design” that reduces its environmental load. Features contributing to its eco appeal include excellent exposure of rooms to sunshine; harbour views; residences facing north-south; access to natural ventilation such as high openable windows; and defences against daytime and nighttime environmental noise and airborne noise.
(Text by Nadine Nicolson)