Livia Tirone and Owen Lewis for ACE Task Force Environment & Sustainable Architecture.
ACE POSITION ON ENVIRONMENT AND SUSTAINABLE ARCHITECTURE
Adopted by the ACE General Assembly, April 2002
This document defines the Architects Council of Europe position on the scope of the Architect’s role in relation to Environment and Sustainable Architecture. On the basis of an extensive folio of background work developed by ACE on this specific subject (Prior to this document, in 1999, ACE produced a draft proposal for an action strategy on Sustainable Architecture: Energy Efficiency and the Built Environment; In 1999, ACE and others also published the book A Green Vitruvius (James & James, London) that has become a reference for sustainable practice among the profession (With the support of the EU Commission, THERMIE Contract);) and summarizing the more recent positions that have been presented by this Task Force, while commenting and contributing to European Commission documents that focus on the built environment, this document aims to provide a synthesis of relevant steps that can make architecture more environment oriented and more sustainable.
An annex to be delivered later will list the specific means of action (measures and tools) that will improve Architecture’s impact on the Environment.
1.0 Setting the Scene: (where do we come from and where do we stand)
1.1 Sustainable Architecture is not a recent invention; it is only a re-encounter with an old set of design principles that have been pushed aside since the Industrial Revolution placed the focus on quantity and intensity rather than on quality and softness. More than 40% of the developed world’s overall energy consumption required to operate buildings that are also responsible for a very considerable proportion of our planet’s waste production, leaving the environment in a critical state of saturation and imbalance, while also depleting its natural resources beyond sustainable levels.
Water of drinking quality is also a resource that needs to be used rationally.
1.2 It is not only the energy consuming and waste producing characteristics of buildings that directly influence our quality of life. Since, in Europe, people spend 80% of their time indoors, the capacity of buildings to supply the right living and working Environments is determining to our lives. The quality of indoor environments therefore depends on high performance levels of thermal, visual and acoustic comfort, indoor air quality and low maintenance.
The built environment represents a substantial and relatively stable environmental resource, since most buildings survive for several decades, and many survive for centuries. But, as the costs and environmental impact of energy consumption and maintenance requirements of buildings throughout their life span far exceed their costs and environmental impact during the period of construction, as the community’s principal physical asset, getting good value is essential; this requires that the building’s full life cycle be considered, avoiding short-sighted attempts to merely minimise initial cost.
1.3 The Architect’s access to the relevant know how regarding the rational use of the Environment and the application of the appropriate technologies is determining to any agenda for sustainable development for the 21st Century.
2.0 The Aims of Sustainable Architecture
2.1 Sustainable Architecture relies on the application of the most appropriate technologies in order to offer high levels of comfort and healthy working and living environments, without damaging future generations’ environmental quality. The following areas can all contribute to improving the quality of our built Environment:
Increasing the people’s sense of belonging, by forming sustainable living communities;
Improving energy efficiency;
Using Renewable Energies before relying on fossil fuels;
Improving indoor thermal comfort conditions;
Improving indoor air quality (ventilation / air changes, toxicity of materials and odours);
Increasing flexibility and prolonging life span;
Reducing the use of raw materials (re-using materials);
Reducing maintenance needs;
Reducing running costs;
Reducing water consumption (recycling grey and collecting rainwater);
Specifying materials according to life cycle analysis;
Reducing waste (on site);
2.2 Relevant tools that are proven and available to help Architects to achieve these aims in their normal design activities are detailed in the following publication: A Green Vitruvius (ISBN N° I-873936-94-X).
3.0 WHAT CAN BE ACHIEVED:
3.1 Demand Side Management (DSM) (or reducing the demand for energy consumption in buildings) is the cleanest and most efficient means of improving the delivery of energy services. Although it is not so easy to quantify the achievements compared with supply-side initiatives, there is no doubt that reducing the need for energy supply is the most sustainable way to manage energy.
3.2 Times and priorities have changed as our nations have joined (almost all) in an effort to reduce CO2 emissions to 1990 standards by the year 2008 / 2012, by signing the Kyoto protocol. The European climate offers unique conditions for considerable improvement in the energy performance of buildings, particularly in the housing sector. With the use of the correct design tools, the application of the appropriate technologies associated with a better understanding of old construction principles, supported by laws that encourage the use of renewable energies at the building level, new buildings can easily reduce their energy requirements (for thermal comfort and lighting) by more than 50% in comparison with their conventionally built counterparts and National regulations.
3.4 There is also no question that the building sector is also responsible for a considerable amount of the world’s produced waste and can be instrumental in the reduction of primary water consumption.
3.5 There are many developments which achieve exemplary reductions in energy consumption, and focus on additional areas, such as water efficiency and the role of materials in indoor air quality, while showing that there is no specific architectural style attached to sustainable buildings. This ensures the aesthetic diversity, which our cities of tomorrow require in order to remain dynamic and interesting places.
3.6 National and local building legislation and regulations can often represent a series of barriers to a minimalist adaptation of existing buildings to new uses. It is crucial that regulations are intelligently designed.
3.7 The present environmental and energy situation and the need for sustainable urban development demands an approach to planning and building that addresses both the city and the individual building as complex interactive systems which have symbiotic relationships with their wider surroundings.
3.8 It can be demonstrated that, in a business-as-usual scenario, buildings can use the environment rationally while responding to the contemporary needs of a demanding society, from thermal and visual comfort conditions, to indoor air quality. It is nonetheless clear that, as a ‘bottom up’ measure, Sustainable Architecture has little chance of becoming sufficiently common in the short space of time available. The ‘top down’ message needs to be communicated with the coherence and urgency as the Kyoto commitment requires, and a series of measures are needed to ensure the market receives the correct signals to move towards sustainability.