The Sustainable Design Center

Bio-regionally Appropriate Architecture Collaboration and Planning for a Cleaner, Healthier Planet

What is Sustainability?

Sustainability is a very complex topic. One way to define it is as “the set of interactions between a wide variety of variables that allows something to grow and flourish.” What works for one particular item and location often will fail in another location and climate.

In Architecture, Sustainability is best achieved by utilizing an architectural style that is appropriate for your local weather, wind patterns and available resources. (Defined as Bio-Regionally Appropriate Design) in combination with insulation, materials and HVAC systems that work for your location, orientation and lifestyle.

Bio-Regionally Appropriate Design can be further defined as Architectural Design that takes into account:

Climatic Analysis-(macro climate and micro climate) evaluation of:
• Heating degree days
• Cooling degree days
• Wind patterns and speeds
• Topography
• Yearly/monthly rainfall amounts
• Sun angles
• Soils analysis

Materials Analysis-an evaluation of available materials based on:
• Cost and durability
• Availability (both of the material and any specialized skills needed for installation)
• Indoor air quality (any outgassing)
• Waste stream/byproducts of manufacturing process
• Ecological footprint
• Appropriateness for the specific climate (i.e. straw bales are probably not recommended for a 2 story flat roofed building in the Mississippi Delta)
• All other factors being equal, preference is given to regionally or locally produced products so as to help the local or regional economy

Historically appropriate regional archetypes: Before air conditioning, each climatic region of the U.S. had very distinct housing styles that maximized passive solar heating, cooling and natural ventilation for that particular climate. i.e. a New England farmhouse had narrow roof overhangs and South facing windows to capture the heat, while a frontier cabin in Texas could have 2 rooms separated by a wide porch with the entire structure covered by a common roof ( ‘a dog trot’) to reduce heat and increase ventilation and security. Each worked well in its region but would be very uncomfortable if the locations were switched.

We look at regional archetypes for examples of ways to maximize passive solar heating and cooling concepts for each building. For example, in Central Texas we use wide overhangs and full-length South facing porches when possible. In Arizona or New Mexico, a combination of insulation and mass often performs well.

Ultimately, the definition of sustainability varies for everyone. By utilizing a Bio-Regionally Appropriate Design approach, we are able to analyze the available information and options and give recommendations to our clients, based on the best available current data which maximizes energy efficiency, sustainability and customer satisfaction while minimizing overall cost.