THE ROLE OF DESIGN IN SUSTAINABILITY MANAGEMENT:
Written by M.S. in Sustainability Management student Henry Gordon-Smith (’13)
Population growth and rapid urbanization have forced cities all over the world to prioritize the physical dimensions of sustainability. As a result, ‘green building’ has moved to the forefront of the sustainability industry. Globally, buildings consume more than 2/3 of all electricity and use about 40% of all resources: the built environment therefore best represents how we interfere with the natural world, for we build up barriers, create infrastructure, construct shelter, and exploit finite resources in the process. We spend 90% of our time inside buildings, thus improving their construction and management is a crucial component of sustainable development, and, more subtly but perhaps more importantly, through their design buildings have the potential to communicate—to motivate and inspire their inhabitants to behave more sustainably.
Being able to model solutions visually is a critical component for managers’ intent for solving environmental problems. For that reason, perhaps, advancing the way we design the built environment has always been my keenest interest. Sustainable design requires more than just the ability to create spatially: it requires expansive considerations—materials, energy, water-use, financial feasibility, new technologies. It must successfully execute the maxim “form meets function”. For me, the physical dimensions of sustainability management are the bases from which I launch into finding innovative solutions to environmental concerns.
One project that taught me the critical relationship between form and function in sustainable design was a LEED project some fellow SUMA students and I designed. Our task was to create a LEED platinum dormitory for the Harbor School on Governor’s Island whose design had to satisfy the school’s objectives. As the new structure would be located on the island, waste, energy, and water-use reduction were priorities. After learning the necessary components for a building to meet LEED requirements we began conceptualizing the elements of the structure. As the architect for the team it was my job to represent the ideas that we developed visually. The collaborative aspect of the project was inspiring; we laid out the features our building should achieve—net zero, 400-student capacity, LEED compliance, food producing—and I would be charged to render a model to match our consensus. The first problem we faced was the dormitory for 400 students: it was much larger than we anticipated. By creating a to-scale design we were able to interact with our idea’s spatial presence; this allowed us to discern the massive footprint it would command. Passive design and solar placement—the placing of a structure in a way that makes the most of solar thermal gains—also influenced our plan. After five attempts we reached our final version. Our building made the best of solar thermal gains by implementing a south-facing greenhouse façade that trapped heat from the sun.
Project Team: Matthew Codner, Jessica Esposito, Theresa Formato, SangUk Han, Coury Revan, Henry Gordon-Smith
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