Architects post their thoughts about design, sustainability, and running a practice with three partners in Ottawa.



Architecture and Environmental Responsibility

Part 1: The Importance of Design in Sustainability

Blanchovic Passive House, preliminary design rendering by PLOTNONPLOT Architecture Inc.

I am a strong believer that we must always strive to design and build with environmental responsibility in mind. Buildings and houses are the single largest contributor to global warming through CO2 emissions, and as architects we are ideally situated to have a significant influence on this. There are many, many sustainable facets of a building that an architect can address, but perhaps most significantly (and at the top of this list) is through beauty.

Ugliness is not sustainable.
— Joe Lstiburek

It's easy when we start to talk about sustainability and architecture to get overwhelmed with the details of how to engineer a "green" building. While I am a passionate advocate for a deep understanding of the science of sustainabe building (a topic for a future entry), I am ever mindful of a quote I heard during a lecture by Dr. Joe Lstiburek when discussing sustainable building practices: "Ugliness is not sustainable". Dr. Lstiburek is perhaps the most prominent building scientist in North America. As an engineer, he dedicates his time to investigating and educating on the best practices for construction of building envelope, design of mechanical systems, and how to build the healthiest and most durable buildings possible. But even with all of his practical expertise he recognizes the importance of design, because "people don't take care of ugly things". An uber-sustainable house that gets torn down in 10-15 years because it's ugly is not really sustainable in the end.

Let's take PassivHaus as a case study. I believe that building and certifying to the PassivHaus standard allows us to deliver projects of the highest levels of comfort, durability, environmental sustainability, economy, and quality. But if we do not give Design it's due weight, the result is a high quality science project. Can one live in and love a science project, even a high quality one, without the inspiration and awe that only Design can bring? This is where we have an incredible architectural opportunity to hold as equally valuable the tenets of beauty and environmental responsibility. The things that make a project beautiful can also be the things that make it comfortable, healthy, warm, durable and sustainable. To do this, one must incorporate a deep understanding of the principles of PassivHaus and good building science with a passion for beauty and awe in architecture.

In this series of posts I will be discussing the opportunities presented by sustainability in design. By focussing on PassivHaus and Architecture I will show that doing the right thing for the environment actually helps us achieve all that we hope for in delivering our best work to our clients.