Insights of an architect
My travel to Japan was the first time I used Airbnb. We stayed at an apartment house with a mezzanine bed space.
As expected, the place was compact, simply planned, and well thought out with functionality at its core. Neither big nor small, the space was just right to accommodate its users and their activities.
The space could comfortably fit four people with enough storage for their bags and a shared toilet with a bath tub big enough to sit in with your knees up.
Each space had its own door so you could easily close them for privacy or open them for a more open configuration. The Japanese architect and designers made smart decisions to be efficient with the limited space.
Aside from the apartment design, what fascinated me was the set of rules that we had to follow during our stay: minimize noise out of respect to neighbors, leave shoes at the foyer, segregate waste, and wash plastic bottles and disposable plates, among other house rules. Trash that was not segregated was not collected.
At first, we were surprised that we had to follow these rules. We then noticed that even the supermarket near our place had five separate trash bins for segregating trash items.
It was apparent that it was a big community effort to practice the 3Rs of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle—a noble cause that they practice to preserve and protect their environment.
The experience made me realize that the Japanese seem to have a philosophy of “no more, no less”. It could be clearly seen in something as simple as putting just the right amount of soy sauce and Wasabi on your sushi, and also in something as complex as the minimal and functional design of a home.
Changing the mindset
So imagine if you apply all of these concepts when designing a structure. It would definitely have an impact on its users and its environment.
It is not just about putting up fixtures, equipment, and facilities to make the community sustainable, but we have to change the whole approach for it to work effectively and efficiently.
The most difficult part of going green is that it requires a change in mindset, because people have become accustomed to their everyday lives, which are often not in line with green principles.
Everyday habits have become like muscle memory, such as brushing your teeth when you wake up. Living up to green principles thus requires extra effort to change your habits and build new patterns of muscle memory in our daily lives.
Is it worth it? I believe it is.
Going green is not just about sustainability and living more efficiently.
It also has to do with being able to prevent and recover from both natural and unnatural disasters, as well as the events that lead to such disasters. Environmental issues are just one part of the equation.
Numerous external factors also affect the integrity of the structure and the comfort of its users, including political, economic, and social, among others.
We have to treat our building as an ecology that creates a living, sustainable environment for its users. Like any living organism, it is comprised of different parts that has its own function to contribute to the greater whole.
For each part to perform its function well it has to be of the right specification and must be well maintained. If any part is not compatible with the overall purpose of the system, the part will be rejected.
The building is perceived as a living organism centered around a web of activities.
We need to program the activities of the users and design accordingly. Activities have to be categorized by time of day, age of users, types of users, as well as circulation of goods, services, and waste.
Clustering similar or related activities helps avoid clashes between incompatible events. For example, grouping passive actions with active actions.
Edifice is an intrinsic part of user activities, controlling the traffic and flow of the users through the structure. The building needs to work in synergy with its users to achieve balance, promote efficient use of spaces, and maximize every function in the structure.
In line with the effort to be green, a lot of Ecocities are being built nowadays.
Seemingly countless considerations go into the design and construction of a Ecocity. Resiliency and smart technology are just the beginning.
Energy has to sufficient and renewable. Quality of life is a top priority for these cities.
Economic integration with surrounding cities is another key concept. If there is heritage at the site, it should be preserved. Lastly, adaptability to climate change is crucial.
To answer these considerations, certain requirements must be met, including security, sanitation, industry metabolism, infrastructure integrity, and information awareness.
The world is changing at an incredibly fast pace, because information sharing has become virtually instantaneous.
Problems are more complicated than ever and now require solutions that are highly dynamic. Let us use technology to help us solve the issues and not make it out as the problem.
There is no single solution to any problem. What is paramount is to adapt to the concept of change. Let’s accept the fact that it is not the same world that we used to live in.
We now have to think and plan more diligently than ever before if we are to design a future where humanity can flourish without fear of laying waste to the earth we live on.
The author is an Associate at Casas+Architects, Inc. This article is for general information only. The views and opinion expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Casas+Architects, Inc. and not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant.
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