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Why Certify Sustainability? (Reasons from an Architect)

Centro de Innovación Norvento Enerxía, project from Francisco Mangado certified as BREEAM Exceptional.

As architects specialized in the topic of sustainability, we habitually advise different profiles of promoters in evaluating the opportunity and the viability of implementing a certificate to make the sustainable character of their projects relevant.

In this sense I am used to putting the most opportune reasons, according to each case, right out in the open so that the three principal factors in getting a project underway, as well as the commercialization of a building, can all be seen as beneficial and backed by a reliable guarantee that objectively certifies this aspect of the architecture (just as a sustainability certificate such as Breeam, Leed, Well or Verde can be). As is evident, none of these three protagonists from the real estate market is the project architect or the construction manager, rather they represent the figures of the promoter, the owner, and the tenant.

However, at the same time I have also been observing that which, in principal, may seem paradoxical: in revealing the history behind some of the buildings in today’s world that have been prestigiously awarded sustainability medals, in many cases I have discovered that it was in fact the team of architects who originally pushed for the implementation of a certificate.

Why though, I wonder. And in asking this we are actually running through a healthy auto-critical exercise, which as you might already suspect, is a practice we do habitually in my own architecture firm. Why do we sometimes defend a sustainable certification in our architectural projects? Is it for the desire to offer a more complete service? Is it to be able to defend the interests of our clients? Is it to be able to favor the promotional viability in a market that is constantly more and more competitive?

Of course, all of these reasons are laudable but it isn’t always clear whether or not they are positive for the architects who are in charge of the project, speaking in terms of a calculable benefit or a clear competitive advantage, given that with it comes an entire series of pros and cons, and the balance doesn’t always play in favor of getting certified.

Among the positive aspects, beyond the most obvious which is the alignment with sustainable construction, for us the most important is the methodology. An analysis which entails the production and justification of the different elements of sustainability of the overall intervention in its varying categories.

For us, given that we had already started with a base in passive bio-climatic design and ecological construction, applying the certification process has helped us to develop a more holistic vision. Also, as a positive aspect, I would highlight that knowledge of the certifications is another way of differentiation in today’s market of hyper-specializations.  This allows us the versatility to integrate ourselves in complex work teams on another level, adopting roles that are different than the usual ones in terms of architectural project direction in our own professional studio.

Among the downsides is the evident additional effort. I encourage the investment to come from external consultants, unless your company can afford to maintain such necessary specialists on the payroll. On the other hand, even though the role of the technical and design team is different than that of the consultant who manages the certification, it will be difficult to conceive an intervention aspiring to certification if you have not previously taken the time to understand and become familiar with what aspects will be evaluated, including the why and how behind all of it. Investing some amount of time in previous training, even if it is just hours of your own time, will be inevitable. The largest downside which ends up being the pink elephant in all of this disquisition: the reality that all of this additional effort to go through the certification process won’t actually make your work any more valuable by market standards.

Possessing knowledge and experience to be able to develop projects that aspire to obtain a certification forms part of your added value as an architecture company. It is one more element that will help to position you and make you stand out from the rest. Nothing more and nothing less.

As you can see, from a technical team’s point of view, adding a layer as complex as a sustainable certification process is no walk in the park. It is an option that needs to be evaluated carefully, always taking the pros and cons of each case into account. Above all, try to externalize as many specific steps as possible along the way, collaborating closely with consultants and specialists who have adequate experience.

Text translated by Kaitlyn P. Delaney
- Luis Llopis i Eva Chacón - @luisbonsai, arquitecto ETSAM 1992: Tengo varios másteres y bla, bla. Me apasiona la arquitectura de Fallingwater, viajar tomando apuntes en mi cuaderno de dibujo, y desconectar sumergiéndome en el mundo submarino. @evabonsai, arquitecta ETSAG, 2006: Yo también tengo másteres, doctorado, etc. Soy curiosa por naturaleza, amante de la 'cocina' arquitectónica y la buena música. Si no me encuentras, búscame subida a alguna cubierta, árbol o montaña con buenas vistas. Nos vemos en las redes y en www.bonsaiarquitectos.es

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