Describe the challenges faced by designers and constructors in producing a “sustainable” built environment Essay

Designers and constructors are faced with many challenges when producing a sustainable built environment. These include challenges set by the UK Government, eco-friendly organisations, and the general public. These challenges are connected with the waste energy produced by the building after construction, the waste products of the construction process, the surrounding environment of the building and its geographical position.

One of the most important concerns to a “sustainable” built environment is energy conservation. Energy usage can be lowered by using passive heating, natural lighting and high insulation. This would mean that the building would use less electricity/gas on heating and lighting as the high insulation would keep the building warmer and artificial lighting would only be needed in the evening. The amount of energy used should also be monitored; this would allow a more effective use of energy.

Also, renewable energy should be used where possible. For example the use of micro wind turbines is encouraged, as is the use of sunlight for photovoltaic generation.

Water too can be recycled and conserved. Rainwater can be collected and used along with recycled waste water and be used for flushing and other non-sanitary utilities, this is known as increasing “grey” water use. Bathrooms containing toilets/urinals with sensor driven flushing and self-closing taps reduce the use of “clean” water. Monitoring the use of water in the workplace allows a more effective use of the water available, cutting down the waste of “clean” water.

Sustainable buildings are designed to have a long life. This is achieved by using robust materials such as steel and aluminium. These buildings are also easy to repair, maintain and refurbish.

In order for buildings to have a long life they must also be able to easily adapt to the needs of the future. “Loose fit” buildings are flexible for changing technologies and for changing the purpose of the building, i.e. turning an office in to a school. This also allows the building to move with the time and architectural fashions. In addition they are able to accommodate any climate changes the future may bring.

Healthy buildings are free from pollutants meaning that they have a high air quality. They provide a comfortable environment for its occupants, meaning the lighting, temperature and humidity levels are just right for its personnel. This in turn provides a stimulating environment which will help the team leader get the best out of his/her workforce. Good landscaping, lots of windows and the use of natural materials also increase the comfort of a building.

Another idea of a healthy building is one that recycles, re-uses, recovers, and reduces the use of material resources. There are many ways in which this can be done. When a building is being constructed left over pieces of material such as steel, copper and some types of plastic can be recycled by being saved and then processed in to new components.

Other things can simply be re-used. Some examples of re-use are: to refurbish a building instead of demolishing it only to replace it with one of similar size and quality; preserve facades to save materials and to keep the building in harmony with its surroundings; try to re-use left over materials without processing them.

Another idea is that you reclaim what you can from a material before it is disposed of, this is known as “recovering”. For instance, you can recover embodied energy in waste materials by incinerating them (in an environmentally acceptable way) and then using that energy to produce power.

However, it is preferable that designers and contractors should be aiming to reduce the use of material resources. This process involves using eco-labelling schemes. Eco-labelling aims to identify and promote products that have a reduced environmental impact. Buying raw materials from small firms in the surrounding areas of the development may be slightly more expensive, but it gives them trade which helps to prevent their stock from being wasted. For example, if everyone bought their materials from the larger companies then the smaller companies would have to shut down and have to dispose of left over materials. Also, scarce resources need to be conserved. This can be achieved by only using the hardwoods that come from renewable sources. Waste prevention programmes play a strong part in the reducing process. “Reducing” is considered to be the most important of the four processes explained above.

Other factors that need to be considered are: whether or not the new development will cause noise pollution as well as pollution of the air and water. The construction of a new development will almost certainly create a lot of noise as too could the operation of the building. A solution to reduce this noise pollution would be to plant trees and hedges around the noisy areas. This new landscaping would act as a barrier and absorb some of the noise, making less of an impact on neighbouring buildings.

Animal habitats may have been destroyed to make way for the construction of a new development. New landscapes should be designed around the building to attempt to replace those lost habitats.

Green belt land is an area of land which is very prestigious and therefore has been protected from being developed. Developers are encouraged to re-use brownfield sites rather than interfere with green belt or agricultural land. A brownfield site is:

“A piece of industrial or commercial property that is abandoned or underused and often environmentally contaminated, especially one considered as a potential site for redevelopment.”1

It is more environmentally friendly if brownfield sites are developed because it is recycling dead land. However, many substances are likely to have accumulated in the soil over the years, such as, ash from a former power station or railway engine, petrol and diesel from a former refuelling station, oil from a former bus depot, or various chemicals. Before a brownfield site can be developed it must first be treated for contamination. This can be an expensive process but has to be carried to ensure a safe development.

Another challenge faced by designers and contractors is that the new development should not disturb the design of the city or affect the existing buildings around it. A way to help a development fit in with its surroundings would be to build it out of the same materials as the other buildings around it. If that’s not possible, use alternatives that look very similar to the original materials. For example, the new buildings along the River Thames have been constructed out of new materials but have been designed in the styles of the surrounding, existing buildings.

After consulting the UK Government’s website on sustainable development2 I found that they have devised four objectives which need to be completed in order to ensure “a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come.” 3 These objectives are:

* “social progress which recognises the needs of everyone;

* effective protection of the environment;

* prudent use of natural resources; and

* maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment.”4

The above list suggests that, of the challenges I have written about, it can be said that they are all of equal importance. Without one challenge being met, another challenge simply cannot be overcome.

After investigating the challenges involved in producing a “sustainable” built environment I believe that the public opinion is of greatest importance. If the plans for construction lack public support, the sustainability of the building will be dramatically reduced.

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