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Sustainable Architecture 2.0

Center of Sustainable Landscapes Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens – The Design Alliance Architects Photograph: Denmarsh Photography

Sustainable architecture is based in the construction of buildings that satisfy the needs of the current population without compromising the capacity of future generations to satisfy their own. However, we are finding that being conservative isn’t sufficient and that we should take it a step further, opting for a restorative and regenerative strategy in which the materials maintain their utility and value, optimizing resources and using them efficiently.

In this sense, the word ‘zero’ is starting to make a lot of noise. “Zero”: “Zero Energy”, “Zero Residual Waste” and “Zero Water Consumption,” three tendencies which are guiding sustainable architecture. In fact, the European directive 2010/31/UE is already obliging that all public buildings constructed after December 31st, 2018 be Nearly Zero Energy Buildings, and that the rest of buildings be the same starting in 2020. In these buildings a common topic is the zero energetic balance, meaning, the total of annual energy consumption (proceeding from renewable energy) is equal to the renewable energy that is generated. A good example is the Valdecero building in Madrid, which has been a pioneer in the community and a model to follow.

But the term itself indicates that we still cannot achieve to construct buildings that are totally Zero. Even though the advancements havce been notable in energy efficiency, it’s also necessary to take into account the reduction of residual waste, emissions, and water consumption. They are still somewhat rare, but there are some ambitous proposals such as Zero Village Bergen, the neighborhood of Zero Emissions designed by Snøhetta in Norway, or the Center of Sustainable Landscapes Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, in Pittsburgh, considered one of the most sustainable buildings, boasting Zero Net Energy, Zero Water Consumption, and with Platinum Level LEED and WELL Building certificates.

Nevertheless, the most important issue to be addressed is residual waste reduction. According to Eurostat, residual waste from construction in Europe has grown by 57,2% between 2004 and 2014, reaching a quantity of 61,8 million tons in 2014, which indicates that it is precisely in this field where we have our particular #10yearchallenge. And even though it seems difficult, it is possible to overcome this challenge by designing buildings that  take the residual hierarchy into account, therefore preventing their initial creation. This is still an idea that is being developed through promising academic studies, but some good approximations do already exist, such as in the design of Silo Restaurant, a restaurant in Brighton that applies the Zero Residual principle in all of their daily activities. The use of recycled materials and up-cycling (tables made of former floor tiles or furnishings from old recycled plastic bags) shows that it is, in fact, possible to design using residual waste.

So, this brings us to the fact that it isn’t enough to just be energy efficient, rather the key is in designing buildings that do not produce residual waste. Philip Johnson said that architecture is the art of how to waste space, but he didn’t imagine that it would go so far as Architecture 2.0, which will be the art of making the most of the available materials and energy without producing waste nor emissions. Let’s be sustainable artists.

Text translated by Kaitlyn P. Delaney
Arquitecta especializada en diseño sostenible, eficiencia energética y accesibilidad. Actualmente envuelta en los entresijos de la economía circular, pero también rodeada de diseño gráfico y web, fotografía y de mucho mundo. Combinando todo con ganas e ilusión para buscar nuevos retos profesionales. Como decía Einstein, no tengo ningún talento especial, solamente soy apasionadamente curiosa.

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