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What is Sustainable Architecture?

Sustainable architecture is the practice of minimizing negative impacts from building structures.

What Makes Architecture Sustainable?

Sustainable architecture is enduring, resilient, and reduces its carbon emissions through sustainable building materials and on-site renewable energy generation. It is also concerned with improving building occupants’ mental and physical well-being through architectural design. Sustainable architecture is a growing focus that protects both earth’s ecosystem and the people who inhabit it.

Sustainable Architecture Best Practices

While every sustainable design will vary based on the planned structure and surrounding environment, there are several tenets of design that are always important to incorporate. At Rowland+Broughton, we focus on three core measures: Carbon, Well-Being, and Resiliency. Carbon focuses on energy generation and passive design strategies. Well-Being focuses on indoor air quality through healthy materials and thermal comfort. Resiliency focuses on durability and longevity as well as system redundancy.


Energy Efficient

Energy efficient or passive design strategies are a vital aspect of sustainable architecture. This often means utilizing proper insulation to keep a building cool in the summer months and warm in cold weather.

This can be achieved on a basic level by using adequate wall insulation, natural ventilation, and high-performing triple pane windows. Some other creative ways of reducing energy consumption include subterranean builds. Partially or fully underground structures are naturally insulated by the earth’s soil.


Water Conservation

Conscientious homeowners can achieve water conservation on a basic level by installing low-flow fixtures and eco-friendly water heating systems. However, sustainably designed homes often go a step further by incorporating rainwater and natural runoff into their building design.

Depending on the building’s local jurisdiction, a building’s roof and gutter drainage system can be designed to collect rainwater to be used inside the home or for outdoor irrigation. Greywater systems are another eco-friendly option – recycling water from showers, dishwashers, and sinks to be reused. Green roofs can also help naturally manage rain flow. Low-flow faucets and composting toilets can be used to create a building that optimizes water usage and saves gallons and gallons over time.


Renewable Energy

Sustainably designed buildings are generally primed to make use of renewable energy sources and reduce traditional power consumption. This is most commonly done by incorporating solar panels into the building’s design. 

Geo-thermal heat is another popular natural energy source, along with hydropower and wind turbines. These methods are dependent on the natural environment where a building is located. However, they are all effective ways to reduce a home’s reliance on a traditional energy grid.


Sustainable and Natural Materials

Traditional building materials can utilize components that are treated with harmful chemicals or made from toxic substances. Sustainable architecture uses eco-friendly, ethically sourced materials to produce buildings that reduce harm to both the environment and occupants.

Some natural, conservation-friendly materials that make great sustainable alternatives to traditional materials include:

  • Stone
  • Bamboo
  • Cork
  • Straw
  • Clay
  • Earthbags
  • Recycled materials, including plastic, glass, and metal
  • Reclaimed wood
  • Wool
  • Hemp


Nature Incorporated

Incorporating nature into a design is a vital part of the sustainable architecture ethos. When designing a new build, it is essential to consider the landscape, vegetation, weather, and even wildlife. One popular way of doing this is using native plants in the design itself. Beyond just landscaping, native plants can be grown on rooftop gardens, green courtyards, walls, or even windows. 

Creative blending of building materials and natural fauna helps a structure blend in with the surrounding environment and promotes local wildlife’s biodiversity and ecological sustainability.

Learn More About Our Practices and Service

Rowland+Broughton incorporates sustainable architecture philosophy in every single project. Contact us today to learn how we can help you implement an environmentally harmonious design that works for you.

Sustainable Architecture Examples

  • Farm Collaborative is an environmentally minded Rowland+Broughton project. This large, multi-building educational farm structure was designed to be entirely carbon-neutral. We achieved this by utilizing solar panel construction to maximize renewable energy creation and reduce baseline carbon emissions.

Innovation and Sustainable Architecture

  • We championed innovative and out-of-the-box ideas to create the most sustainable building possible. The photovoltaic solar array consists of a 60-panel, 23.50kW system producing approximately 29,000 kWh per year. Earth walls and floors lend natural insulation and reduced energy consumption to the design.
  • Game On is a LEED Certified Gold ground-up home. The house was designed to be modern and efficient with no unused spaces. Efficient appliances and natural materials throughout further this home’s sustainability efforts. A photovoltaic array was added to the home’s garage roof to generate on-site renewable energy.

Environmentally Conscious Building Methods

  • During the construction process, we utilized a variety of eco-friendly, sustainable materials. We installed recycled insulation, All FSC-certified wood, non-toxic glue, No-VOC paint, and LED lighting to optimize the sustainability of the existing space.
  • Meadow House and Ridge house are Rowland+Broughton projects that showcase our environmentally minded design process in action. In addition to our usual sustainable building practices, our design team took great care to incorporate each home with its environment naturally.

Green Considerations

  • Meadow house is built on the edge of a natural meadow, and the home is designed to compliment the surrounding landscape. Similarly, Ridge House is located on a mountain ridgeline and was designed to have a complementary shape to this environment. Windows were strategically placed throughout each home to seamlessly blend the outdoor landscape with the home’s interior and allow peeks of the surrounding landscape through when viewing the exterior of the home.


  • The end goal of sustainable architecture is to create a better, more ecologically stable world for future generations.
  • Current widespread architecture and construction methods are often at odds with environmental conservation. Projects are built on land that houses endangered creatures, destroying natural habitats. Homes and offices are constructed with the cheapest materials, not ethically-sourced materials that will reduce long-term pollution. Structures are designed based on how they look, ignoring the effect it may have on the people living there and the existing environment.
  • We believe in doing better for our clients and our world. Considerate architecture methods save money, create high-quality builds, and reduce their impact to climate change. They also benefit the physical and mental health of the people who visit, work and live inside. The tenets of sustainable architecture are good for the body, mind, and planet.
  • Sustainably designed buildings consider the natural landscape, weather, vegetation, and other environmental factors of the building location. The shape, structure, and materials are thoughtfully chosen to flow naturally in the space, appearing to be a part of the surrounding space. 
  • On the other hand, regular architecture tends to produce buildings that seem to be dropped into the middle of the local environment, entirely out of place and lacking harmony with the surrounding flora, fauna, and landscape. We value creating context-informed spaces that play with the space around and within the physical structure itself. Sustainable architecture elevates residential and commercial properties beyond a simple structure - to an elegant and complementary part of the environment.
At Rowland+Broughton, sustainable architecture influences all of our designs and has inspired some of our favorite projects.

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