Sustainable architecture beyond energy and resource efficiency

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At the World Resources Forum, it’s no surprise that the construction industry and housing were active, as buildings are responsible for more than 40 % of global energy use and one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, there is a huge potential to save energy and materials through changing the building methods. Passive houses can save up to 95% energy in heating compared to standard buildings (exact savings depend on the local building code and climatic region).  We can also refurbish old buildings and decrease energy needed for heating by 90%. Very promising numbers. However, sustainable architecture goes beyond resource saving and efficiency.

„Sustainable architecture means taking responsibility for the whole life time of buildings and dwellings and areas, not just making a nice houses and nice photographs… You have to anticipate what will happen with the building after 100 years of its existence and not make houses with just 30 years lifespan…“: says Hubert Rhomberg, Austrian construction engineer and businessman. Rhomberg is putting his ideas into practice and pushing change in the construction sector through the Life Cycle Tower project.

This 30 stories tall building, with an expected cost of 4 million Euros, will  be the highest wooden construction worldwide. It aims to disprove the prejudice that wood (a natural renewable material) can’t be used for high buildings construction. The Life Cycle tower is designed to passive house standard and uses prefabricated building modules that can be easily replaced. This significantly prolongs the building lifespan and enables building alterations according to the inhabitants wishes. Another advantage should be a short construction process ( September 2011- Spring 2012) managed without causing major environmental pressures in the surrondings- but time will tell if this is the case.

Could the Life Cycle Tower be an example of sustainable architecture to follow? Before start thinking about the answer, let’s summarize what sustainable architecture should be like:

1. Energy and resource efficient 

When evaluating energy and resource efficiency of the building, the whole life time should be considered and local, renewable or recycled materials preferred.

2. Embedded in place

Every sustainable building should be coherent with the place, its roots, culture, tradition. It doesn’t mean giving up modern design, it means reflecting the genius loci when creating it.

3. Healthy and socially friendly

The building has to be a convenient place for living/working/meeting.

4. Durable and flexible

Not only should long-life buildings be made from durable materials, but also the buildings need to be designed in a way that won’t let them become outdated and ugly quickly. The flexibility of building use and possible conversion also prolongs its life.

Now, back to the Life Cycle Tower. Regarding efficiency, durability and flexibility, it might really be sustainable. As for deciding the other points, we will have to wait and ask its users and locals.

Are there any other sustainable buildings worth to mention? Any good examples to follow?


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