What are designers' roles in helping solve global issues such as global warming.

Published: 6 July, 2018

Categories: General

What are designers' roles in helping solve global issues such as global warming.

“We have a single mission: to protect and hand on the planet to the next generation”. Francois Hollande, President of France.


What an enormous responsibility and honor to be directly responsible for the welfare of our planet, and future generations! As designer in the built environment, we stand at the forefront of establishing a safer, cleaner and more efficient living environment for all life on earth.

There are a few basic design principles that I consider when designing for a more responsive and energy efficient building:

 1. Be environmentally sensitive

Work with nature, not against it. Design as far as possible according to the natural topography contours, rather than implementing cutting or filling. This will result in the natural state of the ground not being disturbed too much and will reduce construction costs and duration of the works. This starts at the initial design stage of the architect and educating clients accordingly.

 2. Be conscious of carbon emissions

Source and specify locally manufactured products, rather than importing.

By doing this, you eliminate unnecessary embodied energy, which means that you reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by product-manufacturing and transportation, import costs (project feasibility), etc.

3.Consider orientation 

Design buildings to allow sufficient influx of natural light and sunlight by means of passive solar design. Include light shafts and atriums with roof lights for deep space buildings. It’s important to keep energy efficiency requirements in mind when designing with light shafts. It’s ideal, as a rule of thumb, to orientate buildings as far as possible towards north, for optimum influx of sunlight.

Plan spatial orientation in buildings with these principles in mind, to limit mechanical space heating and cooling. Incorporate green design principles, such as “Stack Effect”, “Flywheel Effect” and even thermal massing such as “Trombe walls“to promote natural ventilation.

By implementing “green” design principles, buildings regulate its own internal thermal comfort levels to a certain degree, and drastically reduce operational costs to maintain internal thermal comfort levels.

4.Design for natural elements

Consider wind direction, as well as sun influx angles. Implement vertical shading mechanisms on northern facades, and horizontal shading mechanisms on western facades. This will allow the building user to manually regulate the desired influx of sunlight and wind.

5. Properly insulating buildings

Buildings should be detail designed to properly seal inside from outside areas, to avoid the loss of energy. If a building leak, internal heat will escape the building quicker, requiring mechanical means of space heating, and vice versa for keeping cool air inside.

By properly insulating roofs, walls and floors of buildings, together with proper sealing at junctions, buildings should perform very well with solar heat gain (SHGC) and loss, reducing the need for mechanical means of obtaining internal thermal comfort levels.

There are much more that can be done to improve the thermal performance and energy efficiency of buildings. By implementing the above principles, buildings will be environmentally more responsive, and a comfortable space to occupy.

Remember that we design buildings to be occupied by people. Design buildings to be comfortable, efficient and environmentally sensitive, and you design the future, today.


Written by 

Hugo Van Der Walt

StudioTect Architects & Fire Consultants