A look at eco-friendly architecture

There is an increasing concern about the environment at all levels, from governments, through to business, and among individuals. With scientists in agreement that carbon emissions cause global warming, there is concern for the depletion of natural resources.

Architects and their clients are also concerned about green issues, and this is why there has been an increased interest in the development of eco-friendly buildings.

What is eco-friendly construction?

Broadly defined, eco-friendly construction is building structures that are non-harmful to the environment. This can involve the use of sustainable building material, alternative energy and energy-saving systems.

Materials from local sources are often preferred as they do not have to be transported large distances. Buildings can use recycled materials; old wood can be repurposed for new buildings, floor coverings can be made from recycled materials, and insulation can use recycled newspapers.

There are several eco-friendly styles that architects have developed.


The earth-sheltered style features buildings that take advantage of the energy efficiency of soil and plants. An architect who specialised in the Erath Sheltered Style is Malcolm Wells who, until his death in 2009, designed homes, airports, stadiums and bridges that used earth as an energy saving element, Though many of his designs were never built, he had a large influence on eco-friendly architecture.

A popular form of earth-sheltered architecture is the bermed home that is built at ground level, underground or dug into a hill. Compacted soil on two sides conserve energy, as does the roof. Many of these houses have central courtyards to provide natural light and air.

Recycled modern

The Recycled modern style, as its name suggests, uses lots of recycled materials, often in non-traditional ways. Some use cans, bottles and old tyres in their construction. An extreme example of this style is La Casa de Botella in Argentina, which is made from six million beer bottles (all empty!). Not all recycled modern buildings are this outlandish, with many being elegant, stylish and using traditional craftsmanship in their construction.

Domed and organic

The domed and organic style is influenced by Buckminster Fuller, whose philosophy of ”doing more with less” created the half-circle geodesic dome, which is made up of interconnected triangles that use a minimum amount of materials to create a living or working space. It is thought that the geodesic dome was influenced by the traditional yurt, a type of Mongolian tent.

Domes and yurts borrow from organic natural forms such as cells and this is why they are called organic. They are eco-friendly because they use fewer materials to create living spaces. Dome homes are popular in America and cost a lot less than traditionally designed alternatively.

Prefab and tract

Prefab and tract buildings meet the demand for affordable, well-made and energy-efficient housing. They also address the concerns of people about toxic substances used in buildings, by using natural materials.

Prefab and tract houses have many components constructed off site and then the rest of the house is assembled on site. They claim to have a small carbon footprint, but are usually small homes.

Pueblo and adobe revival

Adobe and pueblo-style buildings are made using adobe blocks or bricks made from a mixture of clay, water and sand. They are based on ancient building techniques that construct houses to last a long time and have a high degree of insulation. They are better suited to dry areas as they need regular sunshine to keep them dry. The houses can store energy from the sun during the day that keeps the inside of the homes warm at night.

Rammed earth

Rammed earth uses soil mixed with clay and sand to form building blocks. The style is based on centuries-old design developed in Europe and Asia. A rammed earth building has lower energy consumption but can be expensive because they are labour intensive to construct.

Mid-century modern

The philosophy of mid-century modern design is to bring the outside in. Buildings use floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding doors to bring natural sunlight inside and have views of trees and gardens outside. This style does not prescribe energy saving or alternate energy, though these are often added, and creates a sense of being outside when you are inside.

Small or tiny

One way to use less resources is to build tiny houses. These are popular in America, with people adopting a minimalist lifestyle where they limit the number of possessions they own. A tiny house helps because there is only so many items that will fit into it. Minimalists often give the money they save from living at minimal cost to environmental charities.

Updating existing buildings

Not all eco-friendly architecture is about designing brand new buildings. There is a lot that can be done to make existing buildings eco-friendlier. Solar panels can be added to the roof and windmills erected. Underfloor heating systems can be installed that are more energy efficient.

Energy efficiency can be increased through insulation. Replacing single glaze windows with double glazed ones makes a difference.

Painting a roof white can reflect heat and save air-conditioning costs in summer. Roof gardens on flat roofs insulate buildings and soak up winter storm water. In workplaces, they can be relaxing areas for workers to spend time destressing.

Kitchen and bathroom equipment is available that uses less water. Water collecting systems can use rainwater to irrigate landscapes. Energy saving boilers can be installed and other energy saving appliances used.

Smart thermostats save energy, and smart meters can be used to monitor energy efficiency.

The future

There are many ways to design eco-friendly buildings for homes and business. As governments become more concerned about global warming, they pass laws that insist that all new buildings have minimum energy efficient ratings. In Britain there are already regulations that stipulate that landlords cannot rent out buildings with a poor energy efficiency rating to new tenants until they have been upgraded.

Whether through regulation or voluntary movements by architects and developers, it is forecast that there will be many more eco-friendly architect designed buildings in the future.

Posted by Mark
August 2, 2018

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