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What is Sustainable Architecture in South Africa?

By 15th Dec 2020Feb 20th, 2021No Comments
What is Sustainable Architecture in South Africa_

The building and construction industry is changing, and at the centre of this is a move towards more sustainable architecture. 

Within the architectural sector, this has meant looking at the design of new buildings from a new perspective and with a focus on reducing carbon emissions, enhancing energy efficiency, making use of renewable energy and carefully selecting materials that will not have long term environmental effects. 

We define and examine sustainable architecture in more detail below.

What is sustainable architecture?

In simple terms, sustainable architecture refers to a building project that aims to have a minimal environmental impact. This approach uses design methods, materials and energy saving techniques in the design and development of a building to ensure that they do not impact the surrounding ecosystems, natural resources or communities. The built environment, therefore, becomes integrated into the natural landscape.

Sustainable architecture doesn’t only look at the design, building and construction process, it also looks at the operational and maintenance elements related to the building’s life cycle. This is done to ensure sustainable development and that the building promotes environmental conservation for as long as it stands.

Sustainable architecture is often linked to green building principles. Both have many architecture and design elements in common, which include a focus on water efficiency, reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions, enhancing comfort levels for occupants and more.

Characteristics of sustainable architecture

There are several different characteristics that are associated with sustainable building. We have summarised these into three distinctive principles, that include:

  • The use of environmentally friendly building materials – sustainable architecture utilises eco-friendly and recycled materials that are kind to the environment. This can often translate into the use of local, responsibly and ethically sourced materials like aluminium, wood, stone etc. The thought behind this is that these materials would have travelled less distance, saving on carbon emissions and would support local communities.
  • Energy and resource efficiency – this approach to architecture aims to utilise natural and sustainable energy sources and will often incorporate renewable energy applications like wind, geothermal or solar.

An architect specialising in sustainable design will also look at ways to make the environment work for them and their design needs, looking at elements including the sun’s position in different seasons, ways to enhance natural light, the incorporation of energy-efficient appliances and more.

It is also essential to look at using materials that are durable and able to insulate and withstand extreme weather. This will enhance energy-efficiency, save on energy costs and ensure longevity.

  • Effective use of space – an essential element to sustainable building design is the effective use of space and the creation of a healthy environment. This is done by ensuring indoor and outdoor airflow and ventilation, efficient temperature control, enough natural light and no toxic materials used in the space.

Many sustainable architects have also turned to modern design trends, including the use of green rooftops, large panes of glass to allow more natural light in, aluminium shutters that absorb UV rays and assist with temperature control, as well as the use of aluminium sliding folding doors which allow enhanced airflow etc.

Each of these elements impacts the comfort levels of those working or living in the building as well as the sustainability of the building itself.

Why is sustainable architecture important?

Sustainable architecture is becoming more and more important within the building development and construction space as it will allow for:

  • The creation of net-zero energy buildings focuses more on renewable energy sources and will ultimately reduce fossil fuel usage.
  • Have less effect on the local ecosystem, preserving it for years to come.
  • The conservation of water by implementing water-saving measures and recycling water where possible.
  • Positively impact the Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) of the people who occupy the building to enhance health, comfort, wellbeing and productivity.
  • The use of materials and systems that require less water and less energy which in turn reduces operational costs.

Examples of sustainable architecture in South Africa

The Ecomo Home by Pietro Russo Architects 

This is the perfect combination of modern architecture and sustainable architecture. The homes are designed based on sustainable design principles and incorporate low-maintenance materials. They are built in a factory in South Africa to minimise construction waste and then delivered to the site, where the modules are installed with minimal impact on the environment.

Example of sustainable architecture (3)

Image Source:
Ecomo Homes: Modular, Compact, Solar Powered Prefabs

Woodlands Spa and Forum, Homini Hotel, Cradle of Humankind, South Africa 

The hotel was built with the environment and ecosystem in mind and blends in seamlessly. This build utilised reclaimed brick for construction, has a grassy roof that doubles as a grazing ground for game and has utilised indigenous plants for the garden.

Example of sustainable architecture in South Africa 2

Image Source:
The Forum-homini-hotel

RBIDZ Entrance Gate by Jeremy Steere Architects

The Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone is a world-class, fully serviced industrial estate located on the north-eastern coast of South Africa. The building has an intricate passive cooling system, solar panel and roofs that are designed to collect rainwater which is cleaned and then pumped into underground water tanks for the toilets and gardens.

Image Source:
The Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone by Jermey Steere



Sustainable architecture will continue to make waves as more and more people globally begin to understand the need to preserve the environment and the impact that building and construction have on this.

Mike Moore

Mike Moore

Mike Moore is a Director at Inso Architectural Solutions