Design for Sustainability

Posted On 2017-05-01

Design for Sustainability – The Top Trend of the New Millennium

Sustainability is an issue that affects every human on the planet. No industry can afford to ignore the impact of sustainable growth. Designing for sustainability is, in our view, the top architectural trend for 2017. So, what is sustainable design, and how are today’s architects incorporating sustainability into their work?

Sustainable Design – More than Just Solar Panels

Sustainability is about a lot more than a couple of solar panels and a rain water collection system. And it’s more than just the environmental consultant’s role. The responsibility lies with every member of the team involved in the project. Sustainable design means working with existing structures, landscapes, cultures, civilisations, and materials – especially those that can be recycled.

In fact, the so-called upcycle revolution is become a distinct trend in modern development of all kinds. Everyone from small grassroots initiatives and even individuals, to large corporate multinationals and even governments, has realised that we can’t ethically use up all this planet’s resources in this generation, without planning for the next. Nor do we need to. Sustainable development is not the scary monster we sometimes imagine it to be.

And even though it can feel a bit like a waste of time to do your small bit for sustainable development, if everyone did the same, it would make the world of difference. Literally. Every little effort counts.

Whether you’re just starting out with the idea of sustainable development, or you’re a seasoned expert in the space, there’s always something more every one of us can do to focus more on sustainable development.

Here are some easy ways to make sustainable design a natural part of every design you do from here on out:

  • Learn about sustainability. Most universities offer short courses in sustainable design. And it’s not just the universities: higher learning institutions of every kind are seeing the need for this kind of training, and offering courses to fill the gaps.They’re not the only ones. Groups with an interest in the longevity of our planet are making their findings available in easy-to-implement snippets that can be applied to various projects.
    Make sure you understand SANS10400 XA and SANS204. Many Architectural institutions, such as the Pretoria Institute for Architecture (PIA), host training sessions on this.And of course, the internet is overflowing with resources to help. YouTube, Udemy, and hundreds of others offer training from premium to free, for every level of interest and experience.
  • Practise what you preach. Implement your learnings in your own home and office, as well as the spaces you design and create. Consider your choice of materials, and using the environment to naturally cool/heat your masterpiece once it’s done. Practice makes perfect, after all. What you learn from each iteration will prove infinitely valuable to your work on an ongoing basis.This goes further than simply designing a green office or recycling your veggie peels. Consider switching your gas-guzzling ride for an eco-friendly option and set the example from the very first meeting. Better yet, if you live in an area with reliable public transport, take advantage of it. Not only are you doing your bit for the planet: you can catch up on your reading time, too.
  • Multi-purpose. Well-known South African architect Friedrich Strey is a role model of sustainable design. His amazing house – part barn, part home, part grain silo, was recently featured on SA’s popular lifestyle show, Top Billing. The house makes uses of natural heating and cooling, as well as existing structures and materials.He explains his design and its location: ‘When pitching a tent, you want it out of the sun most of the day, where it won’t flood when it rains, where the wind blows favourably…and the setting is magical. The silo is built from reclaimed-brick and leads down to the heart and circulation system of this water-wise design. The silo is a mood space; so different an environment that it’s an ideal way to transition from work to home.’ (Watch the video here.)

    Friedrich Strey’s amazing multi-purpose house uses local materials and clever positioning to stay eco-friendly
  • Think beyond the box. Modern innovations mean that it’s easier than ever for spaces to be designed to be self-sustaining, taking as little as possible from the planet. In their review of Benoit Challand’s ‘Roost House’, Dezeen expands on this approach: ‘According to the artist, the house would generate all of its own heating and electricity. “Using a bunch of new technologies, in terms of building engineering and environmental resources, this house is intended to be fully autonomous,” he said.’

    Benoit Challand’s Roost House is designed to be self-sustaining
  • Use nature. For centuries – millennia, even – mankind has created living and working spaces designed to leave our mark on the world around us. While this is not true for all cultures or ages, of course, it certainly has been the trend in recent centuries, with man-made monoliths dominating skylines around the globe. Selgas Cano Architecture in Madrid, Spain, has taken a more organic approach, integrating the design and utilisation of their space with the environment around them.

    Selgas Cano Architecture blends into its forest location
    In designing this concept tree house, architect Aibek Almassov considers the landscape and surrounding area, and draws inspiration from that.



    The concept for this treehouse is to use nature as the foundation and create a sustainable design around it

    Architects Deborah Warschawski and Ifat Finkelman took a similar approach to the children’s playground at the Israel Museum, using what was there already, and working it into the design of the space.


    The children’s playground at the Israel Museum celebrates the natural landscape by incorporating it into the play area

  • Archibiotecture. Yes, it’s a mouthful. Archibiotect and thought leader Vincent Callebaut maos out his vision for a world in which architecture and biology merge into a seamless science – with an artistic flair. His ambitious utopia is a beautiful and appealing testament to modern innovation. In a Design Trends interview, he even describes the technology behind his visualisation, showing how the world’s waste can be repurposed into something both sustainable and appealing.

    Archibiotecture could be the solution to the world’s sustainable design challenges – and the problems of pollution
  • Waste not, want not: repurpose. Ever at the forefront of what’s trending, Google Switzerland’s Zurich office is no exception, reusing and repurposing Swiss artefacts into an eclectic, collaborative space. Google Zurich | photo credit Peter Wuermli; design: Evolution Design

    Google Zurich | photo credit Peter Wuermli; design: Evolution Design

In South Africa, ingenious developers are offering local entrepreneurs a cost-effective, sustainable, and environmentally conscious solution to developing a retail presence, using recycled (and upcycled) shipping containers to house shopping districts. Melville’s 27Boxes and KZN’s Big Box Company have lowered the barrier to entry for would-be retailers by making affordable, funky, urban shopping spaces available at appealing rates.


The Big Box Co brings innovation to the challenge of SA unemployment.

Being the change

We only have one planet, and we ned to use it wisely if future generations are to have any hope of enjoying it. Forward-thinking architects and developers have begun to realise this and design with the future in mind: using what they find, and moulding their designs to match, support, and sustain the landscape in which they take root.

Design for Sustainability

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