Building Science – Leading Design for Sustainability and Wellbeing
Building science draws upon the disciplines of engineering, chemistry, biology, physics and the life sciences to understand how a building behaves and works as a system. Fundamentally, it’s about how successfully it presents and feels for energy efficiency, comfort, longevity, durability and indoor air quality.
In the past, buildings were treated as a structure with multiple systems within it that provided functionality; today’s designs are treated as a single system that speaks to all of the necessary factors and how they work together.
With buildings today, while still speaking to the best design and construction methods, building science has formally taken on a more important role and function.
As a designer, it’s important to consider what engineers call the ‘subsystems’ of a building, for sustainability, homeowner wellness, and energy efficiency. These include:
- The building envelope – that is what separates the internal from the external. Foundation, walls, roof, doors and windows.
- The occupants – be that people, animals and plants.
- The infrastructure – the type of architecture, the structural skeleton, any mechanics, electricals, water and waste handling.
- The finishes on the walls, ceilings, floors and fixtures of the dwelling.
- The landscaping and exterior living spaces.
- And the weather, environment and microclimate – what I refer to as land whispering.
So, while I’ve had to be a little more technical to explain things, it’s essentially – without the technicality of the science – what I do. I’ve always loved working with the homeowners and professionals who understand that you can’t successfully build or design a high-performing structure or home without considering all of the factors or ‘subsystems’, and ensuring they are working together.
At the crux of it, building science enables humans to thrive in the built environment, and that’s my ultimate goal with every project I take on.
Building Science, Energy and Sustainability
The building industry contributes up to 40% of greenhouse emissions globally, but with more stringent building codes and the awareness of consumers and the industry, things are evolving and we’ll get better at it.
When you consider the definition of ‘building science’, there is and will continue to be an increasing crossover and overlap of the skills and interests of sustainable and ‘green’ builders and designers. A true green building will deliberately encompass the best practices to achieve increased sustainability in the following aspects:
- Energy efficiency both in the construction and when in use.
- Resource efficiency (as above).
- Minimal or non-polluting through development and in use.
- Durability, so it will last and can be used for a long time.
- Adaptability, so it can morph for different uses, lifestyles or other.
- Health and wellbeing, so as to reduce chemicals from materials, zero mould and fresh and free flowing air cycles.
- Aesthetics and comfort, so people want to use or live in the space and feel good about it, again and again.
Building Science and Wellness
Ironically, it was author and philosopher Alain de Botton, in his 2007 book, The Architecture of Happiness who penned the words that sum up how the space around us can affect our wellness:
“One of the great, but often unmentioned, causes of both happiness and misery is the quality of our environment: the kind of walls, chairs, buildings and streets we’re surrounded by.”
Architecture and design is mostly built around those that live inside the space, and these days as humans we are much more in tune – perhaps even more sharply since the pandemic – with how our surroundings affect our emotions and mental health.
Factors such as space, light, air, even geometry and shapes, right down to the materials and textures can influence our perception and mood.
Building science is now converging with neuroscience and psychology to develop evidence-backed designs that are not only better for us physically to live and work in, but that can also have substantial mental and emotional benefits.
Some of the considerations now include ceiling heights, the colour and lighting options, and spaces that are conducive to the purpose or to be repurposed for flexibility and change. Exterior possibilities that embrace the environment, bring the environment inside, or and reflect the environment, and the views from interiors.
All of these factors are significant singularly and as a whole, as they can affect the perception we have, and the feeling and emotion that we get from a building. They affect our mood and wellness and can also directly correlate with principles of building science, and talk about how the building behaves and works as a single system successfully, or not.
So, while building science is a theology and methodology and a growing discipline in the fields of design and architecture, in short, it’s what I aspire for in every project. Durability, sustainability, beauty, functionality and human-centred design that blends into and embraces the natural environment with minimal impact, so my clients can truly be at home, in their home.