Lessons Learnt – Sustainable Building & Construction Through Cultures and Civilizations

In all human civilizations building and constructions were central components in human life with continuous struggle for sustainable comfort living in harmony with nature. We give here only some few examples. As the concept of sustainability did not exist in the same way as we know it today, ancient solutions were based on practical use of naturally available materials in combination with the sun as source of heat, the wind as source of mechanical and thermal energy. Climate/weather conditions played major rules in building and construction and people adapted their living to the environment.

The Egyptian Pyramids, temples and living rooms were built more than 4500 years ago with zero energy consumption, zero carbon dioxide emissions and no toxic waste. How the Pyramids and those buildings were built is still matter of speculation and debate. According to historical data ancient Egyptians built the Giza Pyramids; Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure in a span of 85 years in the 26th century BC. How such sustainable technology was mastered is still a mystery what regards saving energy, water and environment.

Traditionally other cultures have always adapted sustainable and eco-friendly methods, e.g. Indian architecture, designing and planning, in constructions. Living in harmony with nature has been an integral part of Indian culture, e.g. what regards waste disposal, light and temperature control, use of local materials, kitchen gardens and low carbon print.

Environmentally conscious buildings have been around for much longer than the public debut of our modern environmental crisis. Since the early 19th century, residents of Yazd, Iran, have been using wind as an alternative energy source to cool their homes on warm summer days. A ‘windcatcher’ is an ancient Persian architectural element used in various central and southeastern towns and cities in Iran, where the majority of the ecological fabric are made up of deserts. In deserts, the temperature varies greatly between day and night, with windcatchers becoming essential for keeping homes at a consistently comfortable temperature. Also, for the region located in northeast Iran at the foot of Mount Sahand, the mound-like homes are carved from volcanic rock, meaning that most of the materials needed to construct them were already located on site. Technically, the dwellings aren’t true underground homes since a portion of them sits above ground, but since much of the living space is buried, inhabitants can expect cooler temperatures during the day without having to jack up the air conditioning (and saving a lot of energy). Similar volcanic structures with carved homes/villages exist also in Turkey.

In certain parts of the world, wood was always a popular building material, e.g. in Scadinavia. Yet the use of wood is seldom seen amongst the modern or classic constructions. Due to a series of destructive fires in the 15th century, the use of timber as an architectural material was banned for sometime. Danish non-profit organization Realdania Byg commissioned Vandkunsten architecture studio to design a holiday house that combines the most up-to-date construction techniques with local traditional materials. The architects designed and built a traditional house clad in seaweed—a material that was once used in hundreds of homes on then Danish island of Læsø, of which only 20 remain today.

Most of current problems today is that people implement and use technologies whether or not suitable for their environments. Because of this the conform of modern technology comes with very high price in terms of economy, environment and above the enormous loss of cultural and locally based building codes that developed throughout several generations. Only, in few cases where enough resources and investments exist there are successful examples, however it remains to see how such solutions can be expanded on larger scales. The “world’s first carbon neutral zero-waste city” is slowly becoming a reality of epic proportions. The prototypical sustainable city, Masdar, is currently under construction twenty miles outside of Abu Dhabi. When finished, the city will be powered entirely by renewable energy, making it one of the world’s most sustainable urban developments. The city has its own sustainability-driven research center, which is devoted to the development of alternative energy (http://youtu.be/FyghLnbp20U).

Among most recent advances in building material is a new type of cement that is based on Pozzolan, which can be found in nature from volcanic deposits. Also, industrial waste from iron and power plans can be recycled and used in producing green cement. Green cements, as compared to OPC “ordinary Portland cement”, are very energy and water saving, environmentally much more friendly with no waste remains and no emissions of GHG. Also, have enormous advantages especially what regards production cost, mechanical properties, duration and maintainance. Modern technology can produce sustainable building materials for erection of complicated structures that have excellent durability but in much much faster time as compared to ancient civilizations. Currently, the best possible sustainable building materials can bring about energy saving of more that 90% with very near zero carbon dioxide emission and zero waste remians.

Additional new comers in green cement era is effective production and construction through automation and 3D Printing technologies (http://inhabitat.com/3d-printed-quake-column-draws-on-ancient-incan-building-techniques-to-withstand-earthquakes/). Architecture is tapping into 3D printing technology in a major way through the production of building elements and structural components. Recent developments have also begun to work on creating seismically resistant structures. California-based architecture firm Emerging Objects has developed a design called the Quake Column, which draws on the ancient Incan building technique known as “ashlar” and merges it with modern technology.

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