November 14, 2016

Designing With the Environment in Mind

Sustainable design is intended to maintain a respectful interaction between the buildings we design, the people who inhabit them, and the environment by conserving resources for current and future generations- developing designs that sustain societies, the environment, and the economy.

This is not a new concept; as designers and architects, it plays a tremendous role in how we approach the work that we do. Climate change, pollution, population growth and depletion of nonrenewable resources are some of the threats facing the environment at an alarming rate.

Construction development in all forms takes up a building footprint, and a little more space in our neighborhoods and cities, and it is important to design and plan with growth and sustainability in mind. These structures not only take up space but the materials that are used to build them can have the potential to create pollution. For example, most unused materials that are not recyclable end up in our landfills which in turn ends up having a negative effect on our environment.

Manufacturers have taken note, and are creating small solutions to combat this problem. Some recent trends include re-purposing products that would ordinarily be thrown out. From acoustic panels made from recycled plastic bottles, carpeting that is created using the fishing line that is thrown out into our oceans, countertops that are made from scrap metal and glass and aesthetically pleasing floor and wall tiles made from television and computer screens, there are plenty of ways to add purpose and character to the spaces we inhabit.  Increased pollution posed a problem, and as designers it is our job to design with solutions in mind.

Not only does using renewable and recycled building materials also equates to fewer emissions and pollution, it can provide the owner with real energy saving results.  In a recent renovation and addition that we completed for Dillon Public Schools, we increased the overall square footage by 30%, but were able to maintain the same average monthly utility cost.  This was all done while maintaining the original budget as bonded, along with meeting the original project schedule. Overall a total area of 125k square feet was added and remodeled, and yet the owner didn’t see an increase in cost from this renovation.

Energy takes up a vast amount of our nonrenewable resources. As designers and architects, we are obligated to ensure that we are using products that are not only aesthetically pleasing but do the job that they are intended to do. Solar, wind and water are resources that are renewable. These resources are there for our taking. Science, engineering, and design come together to develop ideas for using renewable resources. Solar energy is being used in all parts of the world. Newer wind turbines are being utilized in rural areas out of the public eye; in addition, these do not cause a threat to birds in the area. Water turbines are being utilized in areas that have heavy water currents which are a great option for individuals that live near or on bodies of water.

By designing and building solely with the future in mind we can all enjoy a healthier environment now and for future generations. We do not want our future generation to clean up the mess that we have unintentionally made. Creating an environment that provides solutions, is pleasing to the eye, and is efficient for the owner is not only our passion, it is great design.

Meagan Miller

Meagan Miller is an Interior Designer with CWG Architects. She is currently attending Helena College University of Montana and is a senior working on the last of her courses to obtain my Associate of Art degree in Interior Design and Space Planning and Environmental Studies. She is working towards receiving her LEED Certification after graduation. Meagan’s design inspiration is to design spaces that are not only aesthetically pleasing but are beneficial to the natural world and to think about the environment first and foremost when thinking about design and architecture.