Sustainable Architecture and Interior Design - Explained

Sustainable Architecture and Interior Design - Explained

By Dikran Seferian January 14, 2022

As environmental awareness is gaining traction across many regions, one type of practice that’s becoming more and more prevalent is sustainable architecture. The term generally refers to buildings designed to reduce the impact of humanity on the environment. This eco-friendly method of modern-day architecture covers the entire process of planning and construction. This includes the choice of materials, the design, and the installation of plumbing, heating, cooling, waste, as well as ventilation systems. The sustainable approach also accounts for the assimilation of the living spaces into the natural vista of the area.

An increasing number of architects and interior designers alike are noticing how a ‘green design’ enhances the quality of life, and how it reduces adverse effects on the homeowners’ well-being. Moreover, clients seem to be enjoying the advantages of sustainable architecture through benefits regarding health and comfort in addition to reduced energy costs.

Roots of Sustainable Architecture

A lot of the approaches that constitute sustainable architecture originate from ancient building methods. These techniques evolved with the advent of modern technologies in the industrial era. The modern awareness surrounding the need for environmentally responsible architecture goes back to when the first “Earth Day” was celebrated — nearly half a century ago. That is also when the international environmental movement came into existence and the global legislation that ensued.

Currently, the world is in the midst of a climate change crisis, and to make matters worse, a large number of environmental laws that came into effect 50 years ago have been withdrawn. This only increases the pressure on architects, designers, builders, as well as clients to opt for more sustainable approaches that may counter the damage caused by the industry (buildings are known to account for a significant fraction of carbon dioxide emissions).

Contemporary architecture has adopted sustainability as a vital element. This is mainly due to guidelines for sustainable building that have been set out by leading sustainability assessment standards. Environmentally conscious architects often make efforts to achieve these standards and to get certified for their projects. Many other architects and designers, however, merely use labels such as “green” or “eco-friendly” as a marketing scheme. In many cases, you may find out that these labels are a bit of an exaggeration. Regardless of all the advancements in environmental awareness, sustainable architecture still has a long way to go.

How to Recognize Sustainable Architecture

Certain characteristics define a sustainable building. These include passive as well as active approaches in addition to other strategies that account for elements such as materials and space.

Passive Sustainable Design

Sun Orientation and Window Placement Are Key Elements in Sustainable Architecture

Sun Orientation and Window Placement Are Key Elements in Sustainable Architecture

A passive approach to a sustainable design involves managing daylight as well as natural ventilation, and it goes a long way in minimizing energy needs for the household. Such techniques account for sun orientation while being mindful of window placement. Architects will make use of thermal mass strategies to benefit from solar energy in certain climates. Essentially, thick walls tend to soak up heat from the sun during the day and release it into the living spaces at night.

Active Sustainable Design

In an active sustainable strategy, architects typically work with mechanical and electrical engineers to install high-efficiency systems involving electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and other set-ups. These systems aim to minimize the environmental footprints of the house.

Eco-Friendly Building Materials

Green Architecture Makes Use of Natural Non-Toxic Materials

Green Architecture Makes Use of Natural Non-Toxic Materials

A sustainable house will normally feature eco-friendly building materials. There is a high demand for materials that are recycled, renewable, and manufactured with minimal energy. Locally obtained wood and stone, for instance, would mean less distance traveled before going into the construction process — while supporting local traders. Green architecture homes will make use of wood that is sustainably harvested from certified forests. You may also notice materials that are non-toxic and non-synthetic.

Renewable Energy Systems and Resource Efficiency

Sustainable architecture is built on a mindset that promotes renewable energy sources. Such buildings are essentially designed with wind, solar, and geothermal energies in mind. These systems are often used in parallel with passive designs. Besides having energy-efficient lighting and appliances, the orientation of a sustainable building can be in such a way that it takes advantage of seasonal shifts in the sun’s position. Another key element you may see in sustainable living spaces is energy conservation; ‘weatherized’ buildings conserve warm air in the winter and cool air in the summer.

Endemic Landscaping

Greenery Is a Key Element in Sustainable Architecture

Greenery Is a Key Element in Sustainable Architecture

Landscaping options can have a considerable effect on water consumption. Green architects will often go for trees, plants, and shrubs that are native to the region. This significantly minimizes irrigation requirements due to the extensive root systems that retain water. Landscaping can also make for an ideal element of a passive sustainable design. Eco-friendly architecture will make use of foliage to cover windows and roofs during times when temperatures are soaring — this essentially helps in keeping the indoor air cool.

Efficient Use of Space

Common Forms of Sustainable Architecture Include Earth Shelters

Common Forms of Sustainable Architecture Include Earth Shelters

Sustainable architecture accounts for indoor environmental quality. This crucial element has a significant impact on how homeowners feel in their living spaces. You will see a focus on sufficient ventilation and temperature monitoring. Eco house designs may also incorporate earth shelters, roof gardens, as well as extensive greenery throughout the structure and around it.

How to Recognize Sustainable Interior Design

Sustainable interior design is characterized by certain principles. Besides creating an eco-friendly living space, many elements of sustainable homes also enhance a homeowner’s comfort and well-being.

Energy-Efficient Design

Having Large Windows Is a Great Way to Maximize Natural Light

Having Large Windows Is a Great Way to Maximize Natural Light

Living spaces that are designed with energy efficiency in mind will typically feature elements that reduce the amount of energy required for heating, lighting, and so on. Such elements may include high-quality windows, window treatments, as well as carpets. These features allow for good insulation and efficient temperature control. As for efficiency in lighting, sustainable interiors will make use of lighter color palettes in addition to skylights, solar tubes, and larger windows.

Organic Materials

Eco-friendly living spaces will have an abundance of organic materials with a low environmental impact. These elements typically include responsibly treated wood, stone, and wool. For instance, you may see stone flooring in addition to wooden sliding doors. Fast-growing bamboo is another renewable material that you may find in many sustainable homes.

Waste Reduction Approach

The mentality of throwing away items as soon as they’re no longer in style is detrimental to the sustainability of a house. As long as an element of interior design, albeit old-fashioned, is still functional, an environmentally responsible designer will come up with a creative way to revive it. Essentially, sustainable interior design is huge on recycling, upcycling, and repurposing furniture and other items. 

Focus on Longevity

Another aspect of sustainable interior design is the focus on timeless elements. You will notice a preference for classic over trendy, quality over quantity, and simplicity over elaborate features. Since longevity can also be achieved through flexibility, sustainable living spaces may feature innovative elements such as modular floors, adjustable furniture, and walls that you can modify to open up space.

Healthy Indoor Environment

Maintaining A Healthy Indoor Atmosphere Is an Integral Aspect of Sustainable Homes

Maintaining A Healthy Indoor Atmosphere Is an Integral Aspect of Sustainable Homes

A sustainable interior design accounts for several factors that create a healthy indoor environment. These include ventilation, acoustics, lighting, heating, and quality of air. For instance, a sustainably healthy living space may have adequate circulation via an open floor plan that also blends the indoors with the outdoors. You may also find a generous amount of greenery throughout the interior — plants are known to significantly improve indoor air quality. One sustainable concept that can be ideal involves an open floor plan combined with a biophilic design.

What the Future Holds for Sustainable Architecture

Regardless of the advances, innovations, and overall awareness regarding the need for more eco-friendly building styles, sustainable architecture is still but a fragment of the industry. Moreover, professionals believe that the current concept of sustainability is obsolete — especially considering the condition of the planet today. These experts claim that the most suitable approach involves regenerative architecture and design. This progressive practice essentially intends on using natural resources to construct buildings that would regenerate themselves and disintegrate after serving their purpose.


Written by
Dikran Seferian

Written by Dikran Seferian