Safer Built Environments for 90% of the World

Sustainability + Humanitarian Architecture


You may have heard the word sustainability being thrown around a fair bit these days. Sustainable development is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations).  The 3 main branches of sustainability are:

  1. Environmental
  2. Economic
  3. Social

These 3 areas play major roles in humanitarian architecture. It is much more than just making a building green!  To achieve sustainable design there needs to be a good balance of all 3.

Environmental Sustainability

This involves coming up with practical designs and solutions that minimise the impact on the natural environment.  From choosing building materials to construction methods, a lot of what we do today, especially in architecture and construction, affects the earth more than we may think.

Let’s focus on a specific building material for now.  To fully understand its environmental sustainability we need to find out about:

  • What the material originated as (trees, sand, soil etc)
  • The amount of energy used to transport the material to site
  • The process to produce the material
  • The amount of carbon it releases into the atmosphere during the lifetime of the material (Carbon footprint)
  • Wether it will withstand any kind of natural disaster
  • Whether it can be recycled or reused

And these are only just the basic steps to understanding how a material impacts the environment!  Needless to say more on how important environmental sustainability is when it comes to brining humanitarian architectural services to regions where transportation is minimal or mass reconstruction is needed urgently following a natural disaster!

Economic Sustainability

This is pretty straightforward – it’s the money side of things.  For a design to be economically sustainable, we need to consider the costs of materials, services, wages, construction methods, transportation and much more!

Being conscious about economic sustainability is also to encourage profitability in the long run.  Short term costs vs long term costs can often create problems in humanitarian architecture.  Cheaper materials may seem attractive in the beginning, but it is always worth thinking about the possible long-term costs of maintenance, environmental impacts etc during design phase to encourage economic sustainability.

Social Sustainability

This relates to considering the cultural and everyday life aspects of the people we are designing for.  Whether a building will fit in with their everyday life routine, whether it is suitable to their culture or religion, and also also being sensitive to how people (of all ages and gender) will respond to the design solutions.  It is all about improving the lives and livelihoods of people who will use the buildings and their future generations.

Check out these sites to find out more about:

Environmental sustainability

Economic sustainability

Social sustainability

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