10 reasons to incorporate sustainable design into your projects
By Alexandra Brower

Why did you choose to study architecture? Most people want to design better spaces that make people happier and healthier and that look beautiful. But what about sustainability? Think about this: Cities today cover about 2 percent of the earth’s surface, contain 50 percent of the world’s population, consume 75 percent of global energy and produce 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Don't forget that these cities are projected to become "mega" and host 75 percent of the world's population by 2050. So what do we do about this? Why is this not at the core of every studio, in architecture curriculum and design pedagogy?

Incorporating sustainable design principles in your studio project will help you get hired and will set you apart as a progressive, forward-thinking designer. This is a problem we are inheriting right now. It is an immense opportunity to make sure that we create healthy and happy ways of life that are designed well for future generations and ourselves.

Do you incorporate sustainability into your designs?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

Just in case you need more convincing, here is my top 10 short list of reasons why you need to approach your projects with a sustainable mindset:
  1. Having informed design is important. Having the ability to be a visionary and project possibilities that connect to many dimensions is important. Also, having the ability to make impacts at all different scales that create healthy and holistic connections are aspects of informed and smart design.

  2. The father of architecture says so. Vitruvius’ writings, which we can interpret to include sustainable concepts, include: Commodity — usually understood as suitability for use — is broadened to mean effectiveness in environmental, economic and programmatic terms. Firmness surpasses structural reliability and incorporates long-term environmental sustainability, comfort and longevity. Delight moves beyond pleasure in aesthetics and embraces a deeper meaning.

  3. The architect's role is changing. Architects are known to be visionary leaders, but not all of them are. This new role includes architects as social change agents and advocates for ecological thinking.

    Colin Ostman
    Colorado's proposed Boulder Green House is a stage for the Boulder Farmer's Market, a community kitchen, a seed bank, a community garden and various dining and gathering spaces.

  4. Think outside the site. Approaching architecture in an ecological way requires an understanding of living systems and natural science. The site needs to be reconceived, included and thought of as a part of a larger and more complex system. Similar to an urban planner's approach, we must realize, understand and explore these larger local and regional networks of ecology, impact, systems, culture and economics.

  5. Develop an eco-footprint. Solve studio problems by addressing the issues of beauty, performance and ecological factors simultaneously. Doing this will strengthen your understanding of place and sense of identity.

  6. Cradle to cradle. Instead of the cradle-to-grave philosophy, consider cradle-to-cradle economics, which basically states that the components of the building at the end of its useful life could and ought to be recycled into a new use and structure. This can include repurposing, upcycle and recycling strategies and materials.

  7. People will hire you. You will have developed a unique and important new set of skills and understanding that firms value. By becoming an advocate for natural systems and ecological thinking, you are developing a new language and way of looking at design that can shift thinking and broaden the definition of sustainability.

  8. A cool, new and unique word to describe your studio project: ecomorphic. The term ecomorphic describes buildings that mimic natural systems and reconnect people to [the spirit of] nature. Similar to the spirit of a place, "genius loci."

  9. Become an advocate. The built environment is one of the most direct influences on people in their life. As ecologically mindful architects you will continue to evolve and create new linkages to ecological processes that are fundamental and important to embrace through design and design thinking.

  10. Systemic thinking. Understanding natural systems, site and community as a system as well as their relationships and how they interact redefines boundaries within the system and expands capabilities.
Break the pattern. Architects and designers have high-profile leadership roles and can use these to help in this transformation. It looks good in your portfolio and shows your prospective employer that you care, are innovative and are taking responsibility of your future. Be a leader.

Want to learn more? Explore some of these terms: cradle to cradle; biophillia, biomimicry.

Alexandra Brower has a degree in environmental design with an urban planning emphasis from CU Boulder in Colorado, is trained in urban planning, architecture, landscape architecture and design. Originally from Oahu, Hawaii, she enjoys an array of activities such as rock climbing, traveling, yoga, hiking, writing, hockey, design and gardening. She approaches design with holistic and sustainable philosophies. She can speak Japanese and German, loves spicy food and wants to go to space before she dies. Follow her on Twitter @hawaiiaspenalex.