January 29th, 2019

What it Means to be a Green Architecture Firm

Green Architecture Firms Explained

All of us living on Earth are the stewards of our planet, and it’s our responsibility to keep it healthy for ourselves and for generations to come. A green architecture firm does this by designing and constructing buildings while understanding the impact a building will have on the local environment and on the world at large. Building design and construction choices can have a big impact on how sustainable a project is – from the materials used, to the energy efficiency of the facility, all of which can have a positive impact on the productivity and health of the buildings’ occupants.

There are many strategies green architecture firms use when focusing on environmentally friendly practices and a sustainable future. If you are looking to create a building that reflects your commitment to the world around you and the people who interact with your buildings, here is how a green architecture firm can make that impact.

Design with the Right Kind of Impact

Buildings are a necessary part of modern life but can impact the environment negatively based on their footprint alone. Therefore, one strategy is to minimize the size of building constructed through intelligent design and proper planning. Setting goals to reduce environmental impact also ensures the least amount of space needed is what is built, while maximizing the potential of that space. Generally, you will not see hulking, half-empty buildings created by green architecture firms. Instead, there is a focus on mixed-use spaces, that provide a broad range of utility, thereby reducing the overall footprint and utilities needed to operate it.

Once a building is efficiently sized, the impact can be further reduced with design features like urban gardening and green roofs. Even in the tallest, largest buildings, green architects have found a way to bring in nature, promote local agriculture, and bring a focus to sustainable practices.

Material Selection

The materials used in the design and construction of a building are hugely important to both the aesthetic of that building and to the eco-friendliness of the construction. Materials sourced from far and wide are environmentally inefficient, causing a lot of energy and resource use just to get the materials shipped to the construction site, all while contributing pollution with unnecessary transportation.

Green architecture firms generally work with durable materials sourced from renewable resources, so the building will not require a lot of maintenance or replacement work over time. Some architecture firms are using cutting edge, novel ideas to reuse existing materials while creating eye-catching, functional buildings. For example, used shipping containers (shipped from overseas and too expensive to send back for re-use) have been transformed into hotels, office buildings, and other permanent architectural structures, giving new life to materials that would otherwise be relegated to a landfill.

Waste Reduction

Construction projects generate waste at a high pace. Not only do sustainable architecture firms establish waste management goals and requirements for the contractor’s construction activities, they do their best to reduce waste, be it water, energy, or materials, by creating designs that account for the materials’ modules/sizing and by selecting materials that can be used to the fullest, with discard or leftovers recycled as much as possible.

Energy Efficiency

As the lead in most building projects, architects are involved in all aspects of building planning which means they can introduce many energy efficient features to a project. An experienced green architect will make smart design decisions (such as building orientation, and overall shape/massing) early in the process including sustainable, efficient technologies like solar panels, wind power, and using windows and reflective surfaces to maximize natural daylight versus relying fully on energy-sucking light fixtures. A lot of green architecture firms are using geothermal (“ground-source”) heating and cooling, taking advantage of the Earth’s consistent temperature to heat and cool buildings without relying as much on mechanical technologies, whether it’s designing for a geothermal heat system, or literally building a facility into the ground.

The building envelope is a key element to energy efficiency, and architects will work to ensure that issues like air leakage are addressed, along with including high-performance windows, specifying proper insulation to keep temperatures comfortable, and taking all of these factors into account to “right-size” the mechanical systems – ultimately providing reduced operating costs.

Benefits of Green Architecture

While the list of benefits is long, they fall into three categories.  First, a green design and construction project minimizes the impact it has on the environment (Benefit #1). Energy- and utility-efficiencies also reduce the long-term operating costs of a facility (Benefit #2).  Finally, a well-designed building that makes use of daylight and enhanced indoor air quality (through the use of low-VOC materials and improved air circulation) can have a marked improvement on productivity in office buildings, foot traffic in stores, better test scores in schools (see our article on school architects), and overall reduced absenteeism (Benefit #3).  This also translates to a noticeable financial return over time.

The question that usually comes to mind is the cost – is it more expensive to create a green building?  Of course, the answer is “it depends”.  If green features like solar panels, extra insulation, and elaborate mechanical systems are simply “added” to the design, then yes, costs will increase.  But if the green architecture firm takes an integrative approach – using an interdisciplinary team to set goals early and understand how all the process, materials, and systems impact each other – then the overall design becomes more efficient, and more often than not, less expensive; especially when looking at the long-term costs.

We are happy to answer any questions you may have about green architecture. Connect with us to learn more!

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