Ecological sustainability in construction has been much spoken of lately. What does the concept involve? Why do our architects and designers not use “green” construction technologies on a wider scale? We talk about this with the Chairman of the Council on the ecologically sustainable architecture of the Architects’ Union of Russia, Alexander Remizov.
When voluntary is not pro bono
— Mr. Remizov, in one of your interviews you remarked that even Belarus and Kazakhstan, to say nothing of Europe, are ahead of us in the sphere of ecological sustainability in construction. What are the causes of this?
—The causes are in the extensive development of the home construction industry. Volume, plan, and gross output are still important on the Russian construction site. Construction objects are estimated according to a cost per square meter from the moment of commissioning of a facility. What is going on otherwise with the object doesn’t interest anybody. Regulatory practices don’t take into account the life cycle of a building. So, expenditures on the building service, maintenance, exploitation and utilization may ultimately exceed the cost of construction many times.
— What does the notion of “the object’s life cycle” include?
— It is very important. I’d say it’s a key thing. If the assessment of the life cycle were introduced, very interesting things would result. We would learn that it is more profitable to build a more expensive object and then to exploit it cheaply for half a century due to heat saving, less expenditures on overhaul maintenance, etc. And this is a key factor directly influencing the efficiency of the industry.
In a “sick” building, people get ill and work badly
— Our authorities may lack ecological literacy and an understanding of the trends in world construction practices…
— The point is not enlightenment. The problem is the absence of demand in people’s attitudes to themselves, their health and their mode of life. Imagine: 90% of someone’s life is spent inside either an office or a home. And premises may have a positive or negative indoor environment. According to our data, 30% of all buildings have “bad house syndrome”. This means that a man inside this building loses working efficiency and gets sick but often cannot define the reason for his sickness. The reason is the low quality of construction materials, higher humidity, low illumination intensity, dreadful ventilation, etc. But as soon as one starts to take care of his health all these problems go.
The “green” approach
— From your point of view, how should a building designed according to “green” standards and norms of ecological sustainability be?
— The “green” approach lowers the negative impact of construction upon the environment due to engineering measures. First of all, this entails energy efficient and ??2-neutral buildings. The construction of “Energy+” buildings has been adopted in Europe, requiring the building of objects producing more energy than they use by 2020.
An ecologically sustainable approach changes the paradigm: a building is not a problem, but a solution. It means the restoration and regeneration of the environment, and everybody wins: the people, the environment, the buildings. This approach involves considering the whole life cycle of the object and assessing its sociocultural values - for example, its physical and mechanical properties, the quality of implementation, a healthy inner space and aesthetics guarantee a long period of exploitation.
For an employer, the economic effects will include saving on the object’s heating and illumination and his employees’ sick leave, as they will be healthier.
Regarding school buildings, the effect will be even greater. A ventilation upgrade of 30% will increase the educational quotient by 15%.
Another point is convenient utilization. Nothing is eternal, and a building will serve out its term of existence. So, during its utilization it must “dissolve” into nature, decompose into its constituents, and become absolutely harmless to the environment.
Riding bicycles and electric cars around ecotown
— Have you as an architect ever had an ecologically sustainable project realized?
— Yes. Recently I realized a project of an ecologically sustainable town on the Black Sea coast, in which I tried to use all the main principles of ecologically sustainable construction.
There are practically no cars in the town – they are all parked in underground garages at the entrance to the town. In residential areas, people mainly use bicycles, electric cars or walk.
All the houses are facing the sea. Only one floor faces the north - the other four face the south. Such positioning allows for ventilation of the house in natural way and passively accumulate solar heat in winter.
The houses have “green” roofs. There is an artificial pond in the town where rain water accumulates. This is used for watering plants. .
The project was a prize-winner in the competition for architectural works at the international architecture festival “Zodchiy” in 2013–2014.
— Do young Russian architects have interesting “green” projects?
— Of course. Our young specialists have a lot of advanced architectural ideas. By the way, we traditionally organize competitions in ecologically sustainable architecture in the “Zodchiy” festival, and we find talented architects.
I must say that young people are against conservative methods of design. They want to work according to world design standards, which are strict about ecological sustainability.
This year the Architects’ Union of Russia and the non-commercial partnership, “The Council for ecologically sustainable architecture” have, for the first time, established a national prize in the sphere of ecologically sustainable architecture, “ARCHI-sustainability”, with prize money of 250 thousand rubles and a laureate memorial sign. The main criteria are: the creation of a natural integral environment for life-sustaining activity, forming the architectural image of ecologically sustainable building, and architectural efficiency during the whole life cycle.
— As far as I know, ecologically sustainable construction lays claim to the idea of a friendly environment for life-sustaining activity. What is meant by this?
— We have a great number of administrative premises, absolutely “closed” to the city, locked by lifting gates, where you can get in only with special pass-cards. All these objects may be opened by placing cafes, restaurants, libraries, and clubs on the ground floors of the buildings. Such “openness” would add to the creation of a friendly environment.
— I’ve heard that you have another interesting idea: to open the Kremlin embankment to the public…
— Indeed. On weekdays the embankment is jammed with cars, and on weekends it could become the place for walks for Muscovites.
— When they are in demand. From the professional point of view, such specialists are ready. For example, there are courses in ecologically sustainable architecture in the Architects’ Union of Russia. We’ve been teaching specialists for four years.
But the problem will hardly be solved while our state declares that we need more square metres but not quality buildings. In fact, we must take one very important decision: to introduce analysis tools and build life cycle assessment into construction regulations.
Photo by Alexander Remizov, taken from the project “Kovcheg” (“The Ark”)