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Green Architecture vs Sustainable Architecture in South Africa

By 25th January 2021October 17th, 2023No Comments
Green architecture vs Sustainable architecture in South Africa

In recent years, the words green and sustainable have become synonymous with the world of architecture and for a good reason. Both terms are often used interchangeably but have subtle differences relating to the green building principles they follow. 

Below is our take on the green architecture vs sustainable architecture debate.

What is green architecture, and how does it differ from sustainable architecture?

Green architecture is defined as an approach to building that minimises the harmful effects of construction projects on human health and the environment. Through green architecture, the architect will attempt to protect the air and water quality as well as the environment, through sustainable development and by choosing eco-friendly building materials and construction practices. 

Sustainable architecture, on the other hand, talks about green design which aims to have a minimal environmental impact. This approach uses design methods, materials and energy-saving techniques in the design and development of buildings to ensure that they do not impact the surrounding ecosystems or communities. In this way, the built environment is integrated into the natural landscape.

The main difference between green architecture and sustainable architecture is that green architecture looks beyond just the new building design and focuses on the construction practices,  building process and cost. Green architecture looks at the whole process and the functionality of the building within the environment, instead of only focusing on the design of the building and ticking off a list of green building codes and registrations. 

This architectural approach focuses on the broader impact related to the building industry that includes site planning, cost, the community and how the land will be used.  

Green architecture building principles 

Green architecture building principles

Green architecture focuses on several different environmentally friendly building principles that all aim to have minimal impact on the environment throughout the construction process. Many of these principles are in line with the LEED certification framework, which is the most widely used green building rating system in the world as it provides a framework for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings. 

These apply to eco-friendly house designs as well as  industrial/corporate structures and include:

  • Ventilation systems and insulation to enhance heating and cooling efficiency 
  • Energy efficient systems and appliances 
  • Plumbing solutions that save water
  • Indigenous vegetation and materials for landscaping 
  • Use of renewable energy sources like solar, wind or geothermal energy 
  • Use of materials that are locally, ethically and responsibly sourced. These include materials like wood, stone and aluminium 
  • Repurposed and recycled material that will not have an impact on the environment 
  • Rainwater harvesting and greywater use based solutions 
  • Utilising local communities and companies for building resources 
  • Design that makes use of natural light and facilitates airflow  
  • Cost saving building approaches that make sense for the area, and use

Benefits of Green Architecture

Benefits of Green Architecture

There are a number of different benefits associated with green architecture, many of which overlap with sustainable architecture. These include:

Environmental benefits: 

  • Preservation of the natural environment and ecosystems in which the building is being constructed in 
  • Conservation and responsible use of natural resources like water 
  • Waste reduction 
  • Reducing the carbon footprint associated with building 
  • Reduction of waste streams 

Economic benefits: 

  • Reduced operating costs due to energy savings 
  • Enhanced employee productivity and performance 
  • Increased asset value of the property 
  • Minimise the impact on local utility infrastructure 

Social benefits:

  • Positively impact the Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) of the people who occupy the building to enhance health, comfort, wellbeing and productivity
  • Improved indoor air quality and flow 
  • Enhance the quality of life for residents and occupants living or working in the building 

Examples of Green Architecture Projects in South Africa

There are several different green architecture examples in South Africa. The below are our top picks for this sector as they illustrate what it means to design a building for the environment, to be sustainable and to fulfil a purpose. These buildings are the perfect balance between innovation and green architecture principles. 

Sandbag Houses designed by MMA Architects

Example of Green Architecture 1

Image Source:
Sandbag Houses, Freedom Park, Cape Town, South Africa

Sandbag Houses were born out of a need to utilise inexpensive local materials to build several houses in Freedom Park, Cape Town. This project was conducted with the community and local builders who used the EcoBeam system, which replaces traditional brick and mortar materials with sandbags. This is a cost-effective, safe, strong and sustainable way of building affordable housing.

Vissershok School by Tsai Design

Example of Green Architecture 3

Image Source:
Vissershok School, Durbanville, South Africa

The Visserhok School was constructed using recycled shipping containers. This building is utilised as a school in the morning and a library in the afternoon. The design maximises the use of space, natural light, enhances ventilation and reduces heat gain. The school also makes use of a green wall which not only acts as a vegetable garden but provides protection from the wind. The use of low-cost materials, design of the school and its use is a great example of green architecture in practice. 

Africa Centre by East Coast Architects

Example of Green Architecture 2

Image Source:
Africa Centre, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

The Africa Centre, which is situated in KwaZulu-Natal, is positioned on a south-facing slope. The building is made up of four research pods which are clustered around a cruciform space. A fifteen-meter water tower thermal stack facilitates natural ventilation. Each pod opens up onto a courtyard which allows for more natural light to enter the building. The structure also makes use of locally sourced block work, aluminium, glass, eucalyptus poles, thatching and more. The building also utilised a loop system which channels stormwater into wetlands and ensures that greywater is used to irrigate the gardens.


There is no doubt that green architecture and sustainable architecture are the way of the future. 

There is a need for architects to look beyond the design of the building to the impact that the building and its construction will have on the environment. 

By designing buildings with a green architecture approach, architects can build functional spaces that will ensure the sustainability of the building, environment and community for years to come. 

Mike Moore

Mike Moore

Mike Moore is a Director at Inso Architectural Solutions