Creating sustainable spaces to transform our cities
We know that our cities need to become more sustainable but what specifically does this overwhelming task entail, and how does it translate into actionable changes to the built environment?
Generally speaking, the term sustainability covers all kinds of initiatives and actions aimed at the preservation of a particular resource. However, its definition refers to four distinct areas, also known as the four pillars of sustainability: human, social, economic and environmental. These principles of sustainability are of course interrelated which makes it hard to distinguish them clearly.
With COP26 and net zero at the front of everyone’s minds, the main focus is on efforts to reduce the carbon footprint and adverse environmental impacts of the built environment. Low carbon design is backed by new technologies and building materials, and underpinned by the understanding of the lifecycle impact especially the carbon impacts during the building stage of a project.
Sustainable designs prefer recycled or renewable building materials and those that require the least energy to manufacture or transport wherever possible. When using timber, the preference is naturally for wood that is harvested responsibly from certified forests (FSC®). Several other non-synthetic and non-toxic materials are considered, including the bio-composite hempcrete with its negative carbon footprint.
Energy and resource efficiency make the operation of a building sustainable. Where possible steps are taken to design for energy efficiency, including the use of renewable energy sources such as wind, geothermal and solar. The quality of a building’s insulating properties is a key component of sustainable building design. A well-insulated building conserves energy and in turn cuts down carbon emissions linked to global climate change.
In recent years the “softer” aspects of sustainability have gained increasing attention in research and practice.
The question of indoor environmental quality and how an individual feels in a space has led to more focus on features that contribute to a healthy indoor environment, for instance smart temperature control and the use of interior materials that do not emit toxic gases.
The incorporation of spaces that allow communities to come together such as seating areas and extensive planting throughout and around buildings has also been recognised as a key element for sustainable living and wellbeing.
It has, of course, long been known that a green environment has a positive effect on quality of life and wellbeing. People generally exhibit a more positive outlook when in vibrant outdoor areas. Such spaces also invite social interaction and encourage physical movement. Street furniture schemes that take into account what communities need can play a key role in facilitating wellbeing.
In the case of the Trilogy residential development in Ellesmere Street, Manchester, the landscaped communal grounds were created with the residents’ different needs in mind, combining more formal seating with benches along the paved walkway which opens into a lawned area dotted with playful seating stones for informal get-togethers. Generously stocked planters frame the gardens, creating a peaceful “hortus conclusus” as an antidote to fast urban life.
If cities are to become sustainable, urban buildings projects should to be viewed through the lens of their positive impact on residents and neighbourhoods. Sustainable buildings need to rest on all four pillars of sustainability, from low carbon materials, low energy installations, passive design together with generous communal spaces and greenery, to transform cities and navigate us towards sustainability.
Speak to us about your sustainable street furniture scheme: email us or give us a call: 01686 689198