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Sustainable Design

Sustainable Design with BIM

Control and awareness of project choices can significantly impact sustainable design. Let’s explore why

It is now known that 40% of material and energy resources are used to build and maintain constructions. The same percentage also indicates CO2 emissions into the environment and total waste resulting from construction and demolition activities in the building industry.

Given these data, the need for more sustainable and improved use of natural resources and the adoption of  the right measures to have a less negative impact on our environmental, economic, and social system, cannot be ignored.

Let’s see what sustainable design is and how to implement it virtuously, also thanks to the use of processes and BIM tools for architectural design.

What is Sustainable Design

Sustainable design is the process of conceiving and creating a product while respecting environmental balance.

The purpose of sustainable design is to minimize negative impacts on the environment through intelligent and sensitive choices and to improve the quality of life for users. It is based on principles that include reducing resource waste, reuse, maintenance and recycling of products, use of renewable energies, and reduction of polluting emissions, through the choice of certified materials (whose production and disposal are part of the sustainability cycle), waste management, etc.

During the EXPO 2000 in Hannover, architect William McDonough outlined the design principles necessary for sustainability.

The Hannover Principles, also called Bill of Rights for the Planet, are:

  • insist on the rights of humanity and nature to coexist in a healthy, supportive, diverse, and sustainable condition;
  • recognize interdependence. Elements of human design interact and depend on the natural world, with broad and diverse implications at every scale. Expand design considerations to recognize distant effects as well;
  • respect the relationship between spirit and matter. Consider all aspects of human settlement, including communities, homes, industry, and commerce in terms of existing and evolving connections between spiritual and material consciousness;
  • accept responsibility for the consequences of design decisions on human well-being, the viability of natural systems, and their right to coexist;
  • create objects of long-term value. Do not burden future generations with maintenance requirements or vigilant management of potential hazards due to reckless creation of products, processes, or standards;
  • eliminate the concept of waste. Evaluate and optimize the entire life cycle of products and processes to approach the state of natural systems where there is no waste; draw inspiration from natural energy flows. Human-designed design projects should, like the natural world, draw and base their creative forces on solar energy, incorporating it into projects safely and efficiently to ensure responsible use;
  • understand the limits of design. No human creation lasts forever, and design does not solve all problems. Those who create and design must practice humility in the face of nature. Consider nature as a model and mentor, not a nuisance to be evaded or controlled;
  • seek continuous improvement through the sharing of knowledge. Encourage direct and open communication among colleagues, clients, manufacturers, and users to connect long-term sustainable considerations with ethical responsibility and restore the integral relationship between natural processes and human activities.
green building design - Sustainable design: criteria, protocols and certification systems

Sustainable design: criteria, protocols and certification systems

Before that, in June 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, established a global action plan for 21st-century sustainability, the so-called Agenda 21. This document represents a commitment by 178 countries worldwide to address environmental challenges and sustainable development globally.

The main goal of Agenda 21 is to promote sustainable development, seeking to balance the economic, social, and environmental aspects of human progress.

Here are some key points:

  • sustainable development: promotes development that meets the needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This includes balancing economic development, social justice, and environmental conservation;
  • community participation: emphasizes the active involvement of local communities in planning and implementing sustainable development strategies. It is recognized that decisions made at the local level have a direct impact on people’s quality of life;
  • conservation of natural resources: the agenda promotes sustainable management of natural resources, encouraging practices that reduce resource use and waste, and minimize environmental impacts;
  • global responsibility: recognizes the need for international cooperation to address environmental and social issues globally. It invites countries to collaborate to address cross-border challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and poverty;
  • key sectors: identifies various key sectors for action, including protection of the atmosphere, sustainable water resource management, promotion of sustainable production and consumption patterns, combating poverty, and promoting environmental education.

Bioarchitecture and BIM

In the field of architecture, bioarchitecture or bioclimatic architecture is the branch of the construction sector with a more pronounced sensitivity to environmental issues.

Bioarchitecture is an approach to construction that emphasizes respect for the surrounding natural environment, seeking to harmoniously integrate buildings into the ecological context. This approach is inspired by biological and ecological principles, aiming to create built environments that are healthy, sustainable, and in balance with nature.

In a bioarchitectural context, attention is focused on the use of sustainable materials with low environmental impact, optimization of building orientation to make the best use of natural resources and renewable energy sources, and the creation of spaces that promote the well-being of occupants. This approach also considers energy efficiency, seeking to minimize the environmental impact of buildings throughout their lifecycle.

Example of sustainable design: ACCA software headquarters coverage

Example of sustainable design: ACCA software headquarters roof

The use of BIM software (Building Information Modeling) and the complete integration of various aspects of design (structural, MEP, architectural) can be seen as a natural ally of bioarchitecture, as it helps translate these principles into practice effectively and accurately.

In a BIM process, designers can create detailed digital models that integrate information about space layout, the use of sustainable materials, and help manage buildings throughout their lifecycle (from conception to disposal). This way, there is full control of the resources used in each phase of the asset’s life, and it leads to a procedural, technological, environmental, and spatial quality process.

BIM also contributes to virtuous management of the supply chain in the construction sector, particularly for:

  • material traceability and management
    • detailed information on materials used in a project can be integrated. This includes not only material specification details but also its source, production processes, and environmental sustainability information;
    • BIM can be used to calculate the environmental footprint of materials along the entire supply chain. This allows designers and decision-makers to make informed choices regarding the most sustainable materials;
  • transportation optimization
    • logistics simulations help reduce waste and optimize routes, contributing to more efficient and sustainable logistics;
    • by optimizing logistics, it is possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and minimize the environmental impact associated with the transportation of materials and components;
  • energy and waste management
    • conducting energy and environmental analyses throughout the lifecycle of a building or project includes management and optimization of energy consumption and evaluation of waste management practices;
    • using BIM to plan and coordinate construction phases can reduce resource consumption and minimize waste during execution of works;
  • enhanced collaboration and communication
    • BIM facilitates collaboration among all actors in the supply chain, including designers, builders, material suppliers, and other stakeholders. More efficient communication reduces inefficiencies and helps implement more sustainable practices along the supply chain;
  • digital documentation and certifications
    • BIM can contribute to digital collection and documentation of environmental certifications for materials and processes used. This simplifies sustainability verification and facilitates obtaining environmental credits in certified projects.

Moreover, the perfect integration between the energy model and the architectural model of each building allows optimizing its design also in energy terms.

The use of energy analysis software allows evaluating and optimizing the energy performance of buildings, ensuring they are designed to maximize efficiency and minimize energy consumption. These tools can be used to perform in-depth analyses on thermal insulation, natural lighting, and energy resource management, helping designers make informed decisions that promote sustainability.

This synergy between sustainable design and digital technologies contributes to creating buildings that not only integrate with nature but are also optimized to meet contemporary energy and environmental needs.

Sustainable Architecture Projects

As examples, let’s mention some of the most well-known sustainable architecture projects.

A short distance from Piazza Gae Aulenti, in Milan, stands the renowned Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) by Stefano Boeri. These are two skyscrapers, 28 and 26 stories high, with 900 trees, 5,000 shrubs, and 11,000 plants, totaling two hectares of forest. Built between 2007 and 2014, it was conceived, as stated by the architect himself, to be “a refuge for trees that also welcomes humans and birds.” The two towers thus constitute a microclimate in which vegetation controls humidity, produces oxygen, and reduces the presence of carbon dioxide.

Moving a little further south to Guastalla, near Reggio Emilia, we can mention the “Whale” Structure, a nursery built by MCArchitects reproducing through a composition of wooden frames the belly of Pinocchio’s whale.

Sustainable design | Balena nursery | Render created with Edificius

Sustainable design | Balena nursery | Render created with Edificius

Conceived according to the most rigorous anti-seismic standards, it replaced two nurseries damaged by the earthquake of 2012. Thermal insulation, rainwater recycling system, and photovoltaic plant make it an example of sustainable architecture.

The Edge in Amsterdam is considered the most sustainable office building in the world, capable of self-producing electricity. It has received numerous awards and the Breeam certification (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology).

Furthermore, we cannot avoid to mention to the Shanghai Tower in China. It can be described as a true city developed on 127 floors. It can accommodate over sixteen thousand people and consists of offices, a conference center, restaurants, hotel rooms, and entertainment areas. Equipped with vertical gardens and green spaces, natural lighting, excellent thermal insulation, it is an entirely class A energy building. It has wind turbines, a geothermal system, and a rainwater collection and recycling system, which have earned the building LEED Platinum certification from the US Green Building Council.

But we could go on for a long time citing the passive solar house in Edmonton, Canada, the Bedzed complex in Hackbridge, London suburbs, One Angel Square in Manchester, Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou, China, Bahrain World Trade Center in Bahrain, and a multitude of less famous buildings that contribute to environmental well-being by reducing the impact of their presence.