Buildings that Last a Long Time

An important aspect of sustainable urban development is sustainable architecture. The quality of buildings has a huge impact on our environment. This impact is not restricted to when the building is in use (e.g. energy usage required for space heating) but also during its construction or after its demolition. Most modern buildings are constructed with materials that are transported long distances, emitting harmful pollutants into the air along the way. The conversion of raw materials into finished products also uses vast amounts of energy. Such practices must be changed in order to protect our environment.

The example of Georgian architecture in Dublin illustrates how buildings can last a long time and can be flexible to accommodate many changes in social and economic requirements during the lifetime of a building. The flexibility of buildings to accommodate such changes in the future is therefore often seen as a measure of sustainable architecture.

Sustainable Buildings

New buildings need to be designed to achieve energy and resource conscious living and working spaces. They need to be efficient in conserving water, providing clean air and managing waste in order to provide a healthy, sustainable environment with minimal impacts on nature. It is also important to take into consideration the orientation of buildings to exploit sunlight, the choice of building materials and type of heating systems installed. Modern sustainable architecture makes use of passive solar energy, natural instead of artificial ventilation, a high standard of insulation and innovative building services such as rainwater harvesting.

In line with EU legislation, all new buildings occupied after the 31st December 2020 are required to meet Nearly Zero Energy Building (NZEB) standards. For Public Sector bodies, the standard applies to all new buildings owned and occupied at the 31st December 2018. NZEB means a building that has a very high energy performance. The nearly zero or minimal levels of energy required should be met to a very large extent by energy from renewable sources, including renewable sources produced on-site or nearby (SEAI, n.d.). This NZEB requirement equates to an A3 Building Energy Rating (BER). As the BER of buildings is now mandatory, the energy performance of a new building is therefore a central concern in construction design and delivery. Integrating sustainable energy systems, such as solar panels, can reduce costs significantly as well as achieving another step towards sustainable living. 

A good example of a sustainable building is the Eir Building, which is the anchor for Heuston South Quarter (HSQ) development in Dublin. It is a reflection of the overall plan for HSQ to be an energy-efficient area.

The Eir Building has a twin-skin glazing for insulation against glare from the sun and traffic noise. The building also incorporates a management system that reduces its carbon dioxide by 50% per square metre. Automatic energy efficient lighting controls and heat sensors react to ensure correct levels of both are maintained throughout the building. 

With regards to visiting some of Dublin's most innovative buildings, the Irish Architecture Foundation organises an event called Open House Dublin. Free guided tours of these buildings are given, many of which are not normally accessible to the public. Their website also provides a forum for public discussion and exhange of opinion on architecture.

To learn more about the history of Irish Architecture visit the Irish Architectural Archive, which preserves historical Irish architectural drawings, pamphlets, photographs and other materials from the earliest Irish structures to the most modern.

Sustainable Housing

The way we design and build our homes and workplaces has a huge effect on our own health as well as that of the environment. Green homes are a healthier option all round.

Permaculture is the design of environmentally friendly, sustainable human developments. This includes all aspects of the development, from using natural building materials to installing renewable energy systems. Using non-polluting construction materials is one step towards achieving a greener home. When choosing building materials, look for porous, natural materials:

  • Lime mortar
  • Plaster
  • Timber
  • Brick
  • Natural paints
  • Insulation such as sheep’s wool also allows air to circulate

Natural materials such as these will allow good ventilation in your home. You could also consider installing eco-friendly heating systems, e.g. biomass systems. Heat pump technology, solar PV or solar water heating are excellent sources of renewable energy for a household, and have the added advantage of reducing household bills. Creating healthy buildings is a crucial step towards improving the wider environmental problems.

Many grants are available to make homes more sustainable, these can be seen on the SEAI website. Also, see the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage for information on development and planning.

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