Pic credit: A Gauteng home by Veld Architects, a firm that takes a regenerative approach to design
WORDS: DEBBIE LOOTS :: PHOTOS: ELSKE PHOTOGRAPHY AND SUPPLIED
Google tells us there’s no shortage of green trend forecasts this year. Many of them overlap, some are ideas still in the making, others have outgrown their use with new innovative designs replacing the old. Where does SA’s building sector find itself in terms of sustainable design? What do we need to do to ensure that our buildings are not only greener but also healthier and proactive instead of being reactive?
Are we on trend? According to the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA), we are. Our building sector is becoming greener as we speak; there are currently 500 certified green buildings in SA and the number keeps growing. However, just like the rest of the world, SA has its own unique set of challenges and in light of the growing threat of global warming new sustainable solutions are needed. “The impact of climate change is now felt by all sectors of the economy,” says GBCSA managing executive for market engagement Grahame Cruickshanks. “This has far-reaching consequences, especially for a severely unequal developing country such as SA, where a large portion of the population still lives in geographically vulnerable spaces that tend to be hard hit by extreme seasonal variations and harsh weather events.”
Enter regenerative design, a holistic approach that tackles individual community and environmental challenges. In other words, it aims to solve unique problems with unique solutions. According to Eera Babtiwale, associate principal at the Ontario studio of HMC Architects, buildings that are regeneratively designed differ from sustainable or net zero buildings – instead of only using the minimum resources needed, which is at the core of sustainability, regenerative buildings operate to reverse damage and have a net positive impact on the environment. Cruickshanks says regenerative design takes net zero a step further. “Apart from having zero impact on the environment, regenerative design creates natural environments for local ecosystems to thrive, filter the air and nearby water courses from pollution, and take advantage of opportunities for a broader socioeconomic impact in the construction and operation phases.”
NET ZERO VS NET POSITIVE
So it seems the best way forward is eventually to graduate from net zero to regenerative and net positive builds that encourage whole-systems thinking and also benefit the environment. According to Kevin James of GCX, a strategic environmental sustainability and project development company, net zero is a great place to start. Eco-conscious designers and builders are beginning to take net zero as a base requirement for compliance, he says. “Companies will become more ambitious with the targets they set for themselves and the types of buildings they create as it reflects their commitment both as private individuals and corporate citizens to our blue planet,” James says.
As it is in the design of a building, so it is in the design of home technology. Although net zero is great, net positive technology is the future. Imagine not only creating self-sustaining energy but generating extra that can be used by the building’s power grid or even sold to Eskom! Moreover, there are technology systems that make it easy to control light, temperature and security inside a building. Some systems would enable you to calculate your energy consumption and detect when you are using too much. It could even switch off devices that are not in use or dim lights when necessary to save energy. Does this sound like science fiction? Well, Gillian Holl of Veld Architects says the road to net zero homes is paved with smart technology like artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR). “Energy modelling, for example, indicates the best possible sites for green buildings,” she says. “Technology can also help architects utilise natural energy more effectively and design more smartly in general.”
A process in which old buildings are restored and reused, retrofitting is a global approach to breathing new life into underutilised spaces. “In SA we will see more retrofitting across the sector, with well-placed commercial buildings being converted to penthouse apartments and luxury hotels, or industrial warehousing being modified into affordable housing,” says Mathew Streatfield, energy efficiency consultant at Here Today.
Retrofitting has many sustainable benefits. Some even believe it’s the greenest way to build, as the infrastructure already exists and bypassing demolition waste lowers environmental impact.
Another trend to look out for, says the GBCSA, is new innovations in terms of a building’s exterior walls and roofs and its surrounding landscaping. These factors help to “tighten the envelope” of the building, reducing the consumption of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. The correct choices for interiors also make a difference: think of the impact of furniture, paint and carpeting. What’s more, the orientation of the building design has implications for sun shading, thermal mass storage and natural ventilation, all of which assist in reducing the HVAC load.
“Companies will become more ambitious with the targets they set for themselves and the types of buildings they create as it reflects their commitment both as private individuals and corporate citizens to our blue planet” Kevin James, GCX
SA’S TOP GREEN PERFORMERS
Vleihuis Development, Linden, Johannesburg
Consisting of eight residential homes, Vleihuis Development is said to have set a new benchmark in sustainable design in SA. The project reintroduced the site’s indigenous landscape and wetland ecology and has achieved certification for Zero Carbon, Net Zero Water and Net Positive Ecology (Pilot). It is therefore rated triple net zero by the GBCSA, the first project on the continent to achieve this. marcsherratt.com
78 Corlett Drive, Johannesburg (Legaro Properties)
The GBCSA awarded this Net Zero Carbon (Pilot) project a six-star Green Star Office V1.1 Design certification, the highest issued in SA in 2018. The company’s energy-efficient development in Hyde Park, 38 Morsim, is also aiming for an EDGE rating from the GBCSA. legaro.co.za
Munyaka, Kikuyu and The Whisken, Midrand (Balwin Properties)
Having won numerous green awards and achieving a world first in 2019 with its 16,000 Edge-registered units, Balwin’s newest lifestyle development Munyaka’s VIP lifestyle centre was awarded a six-star Green Star rating by the GBCSA. This multibillionrand project includes ecofriendly appliances and prepaid water and electricity meters. Kikuyu and The Whisken, two other Balwin developments, are among the first to introduce solar energy. balwin.co.za
Harbour Arch and The Yacht Club, Cape Town (Amdec Property Developments)
Amdec Property Developments is a founding member of the GBCSA with a leading position concerning environmentally responsible developments that incorporate solar energy, rainwater-harvesting solutions and innovative waste-management systems.
Among many other sustainable initiatives, its Harbour Arch and The Yacht Club feed seepage water from the ocean to be desalinated on site for the precinct, allowing the property to function off the grid. Harbour Arch also offers electric car charging stations geared to encourage residents to purchase electric-powered vehicles. amdec.co.za