Sustainability by Design: Fusing Architecture and Technology for more Eco-Conscious Builds

Graham Swett of KGA Studio Architects is no novice in the world of architecture. In his 40-year tenure in the industry, Graham has seen several evolutions of the concept of “environmentally sensitive”, “eco-friendly”, and “sustainable” architecture and building design.

The Rise of “Energy-Efficiency” One such evolution is the emergence of energy-efficient building materials and technologies. Since the 1970’s, there has been a slow but steady incline towards sustainable building trends. Why? “Architecture,” Graham says “is responsible for 48% of US energy consumption, and an equal amount or more of greenhouse gas production.” An early adopter of the movement, Graham sat down with Residential Systems to discuss energy efficient building design—past, present, and future.

Why Does it Matter? In an era where climate change has become a frequent topic of discussion, firms such as KGA and architects like Graham are migrating towards sustainable practices that will reduce the carbon footprint of our built environment. “You’re never going to be able to address climate change unless you address energy efficiency within the built environment,” Graham continues. “We are using more than the planet has the capability to continue to provide.” At the architectural level, Graham believes that responsibility for constructing energy efficient structures falls on those who design them, internally and externally.

3 Key Considerations: From the Outside, In Smart Design Much of the implementation of energy-efficiency within architecture starts at the envelope–the way that homes are being built. Many architects now implement an energy modeling phase, so energy-efficiency is designed into the building at the earliest phase of the design process, rather than being an “add-on” later. Pairing architectural design with building science and energy analysis allows architectural firms to create durable high performance buildings which minimize their environmental impact and provide added long term value to the client.

Smart Materials It has become increasingly clear how important material selection is in both creating a healthy living environment AND reducing overall energy consumption, emissions, depletion of resources, and long-term waste associated with the construction of a home. The increased demand for sustainable materials is driving innovation across the field of architecture. Key areas include insulation, ventilation systems, and window design. “A well constructed window,” Graham states “can actually have a positive impact on your energy usage provided its size and orientation have been modelled to reflect the building’s energy requirements during different times of the year.”

Smart Technologies With proper design and installation, smart home technologies and automations can make it easy to decrease energy consumption. Graham predicts that smart home technologies like automated climate control; automated shades and blinds; and home monitoring systems will continue to become smarter, and more people will begin to recognize the value and convenience of climate control by employing these fairly simple home upgrades. Other popular smart home upgrades include lighting control systems, perfect for limiting energy consumption while providing the convenience and security of illuminating your home via your smart device.

Technologies for Tomorrow What does Graham see for the future of sustainable architecture and design? In short: change. Graham is optimistic that, with the continued trend toward sustainable design and the continued client demand for energy-efficient smart home technologies, the architectural industry will play a major role in reducing the built environment’s contribution to climate change. As fellow architect, long time champion of sustainable design, and Architecture 2030’s founder Ed Mazria has said, “we can be heroes!” To learn more about KGA Studio Architects, click here.