Michael Hayes | Elements of Architecture | Sustainability

Sustainability is big. Big in policies, big in marketing, and big in everyday usage. Yet despite sustainability’s near universal adoption and application, the exact meaning of the term can still be a contested issue. While the causes and effects of man-made climate change are generally agreed (and now beginning to be regularly felt), the tools and methods we should apply to combat this problem are not always so clear or as evident.

How and what we measure can be influenced by the values we already hold. Certain metrics, and the subsequent response to such calculations, in many ways predetermine their end goals. With regard to sustainability, the numbers can be a useful means of comparative analysis but they cannot determine the success of a project alone. The assessment of a limited range of figures is only part of the picture and is unlikely to provide a fully cohesive approach towards a truly sustainable world. Of more fundamental and lasting value is a change in the way we live, the way we work, and the way we make.

And there needs to be an urgency to this. Because right now, we, as a country, are failing in our obligations to reduce our negative environmental impact. Our greenhouse gas emissions are rising, as confirmed by the Climate Change Advisory Council’s Annual Review 2018, and our commitments to national, EU, and international targets will not be met. At the same time, there is no official government pathway or policy which sets out a map for the decarbonisation of Irish life by 2050, without which, it is impossible to “know how Ireland will transition to a low-carbon economy and society”.

So with the nation as a whole increasing its carbon footprint, what can the architecture and building industry do to help improve our environmental record? Well in that same report, the Council notes that while in 2015, the average Irish dwelling emitted 58% more energy-related carbon dioxide than the average EU dwelling, the energy demand of the average Irish dwelling was just 7% above the EU average. This indicates a high dependency on fossil fuels for heating requirements. As such, a reduction in such carbon-intensive energy sources and an increase in either energy-saving or renewable-energy devices is a move that could have a potentially big impact.

This is one approach which was rewarded in last year’s Architects’ Choice Awards at Architecture and Building Expo. The winner of the 2017 Best Renewable Product Award was the Daikin ‘Altherma 3’, a range of air-to-water heat pumps developed to meet a building’s heating requirements with improved energy efficiency. The interior models are particularly attractive, being both compact and minimalist in appearance. Aside from the application of heat pump technology, these units can also reduce energy usage through the extended range of zonal and temperature controls available.

Daikin Ireland will be returning to Architecture and Building Expo 2018 (stand A2) with new heating technology in the shape of their ‘Madoka’ wired remote control. Another ‘smart’ building product – the ‘Silvento ec’ – by Partel (stand W17) will be on show as well this year. This ventilation solution can adjust fan speed automatically by measuring the temperature and humidity content of the air intake thus providing more efficient ventilation control and effective protection against humidity damage and mould formation. It also has the advantage of requiring less energy and making less noise than its predecessor.

Bauder (stand C6/D5) will also be in attendance to discuss their ‘BauderBLUE Roof System’, a sustainable drainage method designed to attenuate and manage stormwater on a flat roof over a 24-hour period via a restrictive flow outlet. The potential for this lies in urban areas where options for ground-based attenuation is limited or where construction is being carried out within flood sensitive areas. It’s a good example of a product which can improve the sustainable profile of a building but which isn’t always factored into some of the metrics we use to quantify environmental impact.

The winner of the Best Renewable Product Award in the Architects’ Choice Awards 2018 will be announced at the show, and it should prove a useful opportunity for architects and construction professionals to review the range of attitudes, actions, and products which respond to to the issue of sustainability at this year’s event. For more information, please visit where you can sign up to the Architecture and Building Expo newsletter, as well as find additional material on exhibitors, talks, and how to visit.