Literature Review: Defining sustainability in architecture

As in every sustainable document, defining the term sustainability is paramount and therefore it becomes clear that the architect must understand sustainable concepts before they can practice. Consequently defining sustainability could be considered a vital part to developing green design principles in order to provide clarity and scope for sustainable architecture and to bring about a collective understanding that architecture can be both attractive, inspiring and efficient and environmentally friendly.


Many terms are used to describe the similar notion of sustainability, such as green, environmentally friendly and holistic, but their foundations lie in sustaining the world we live in for future generations. The most common definition in the literature is The Brundtland commission who define sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future” (1987, as cited in Appleby 2011). The Brundtland is a broad definition of the aims of sustainable design and is hard to apply to architecture. Hosey, (2012) similarly explains that sustainable design encompasses the total environment and all of its associations and therefore it works not only to preserve the natural environment but embrace the cultural environment as well. This implies that that sustainability encompasses the whole natural, social and cultural environment and is not just about reducing CO2. Similarly Yeang and Woo, (2010) believe that “the principles of sustainability can stimulate technological innovation, advance competitiveness, and improve quality of life-all desirable factors. Adding to Van der Ryn, (1996) and Meclennan, (2004) ideas that sustainable concepts expand the ideas of good design.


Mclennan, (2004) believes that “Sustainable design is a design philosophy that seeks to maximize the quality of the built environment, while minimizing or eliminating negative impact to the natural environment”. Rovers, (2008) add that sustainable design should maximize the well being of people. Similarly to Van Der Ryn, (1996), who states “ecological design can be defined as any form of design that minimizes environmentally destructive impacts by integrating itself with the living process”. All of which prove the misconception that Ingels, (2012) depicts, describing sustainable design as aiming to improve life quality whilst minimising environmental impact.


Rovers (2008) believes in an equilibrium and states that “sustainable building involves the balanced use of resources on a global scale e.g. Energy, materials, water and land” alike Yeang and Woo (2010) who describe the basic principles and concepts of sustainability as balancing a growing economy. RIBA (2011) agree using the same categories, plus life, in their proposed sustainable design strategies. Sustainable design therefore can be thought as encompassing a whole design approach in which it addresses all the needs of the current climate. As (Raymond, 2012) believes that architecture is a pervasive activity and is not just the act of designing a building to be simply energy or eco efficient. Sustainable architecture is the act of doing more with less (Schwarz, 2012).

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