How to make your school building more eco-friendly

We adults have to modify our behavior. For children in green schools, this environmentally conscious behavior just comes naturally.


— Brian Libby
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After celebrating Earth Day in April, we thought we could help schools understand how they can be more eco-friendly; after all, we should be celebrating and looking after our Earth all year round, not just for one day! Believe it or not, schools have a huge environmental impact as they require large amounts of electricity and water for things such as lights, computers, aircons, boarding houses, and bathrooms.

At Evolution Architects, we specialise in green buildings and are very conscious about energy and ecological conservation in the design of every built environment. Whether you are doing a new build or a revamp, we have some great tips that will help you play your part in the move to a more eco-friendly society.

A recent study done by The Heschong Mahone Group, a green-building consulting firm, concluded that improved lighting in a learning environment resulted in improved test scores, wakefulness and productivity. With school projects we aim to make buildings more “green” which will also result in optimum learning experiences for students.

 

1. Where do we start?


It may be a bit tricky to try and make a difference if you don’t know where you initially stand. To start off, make sure you have a good understanding of how much of each kind of waste you produce. Looking at how much energy you use and want to save, or where your biggest energy inefficiencies are, allows you to measure how far you’ve come once you start making changes! It is important to celebrate growth and change as it teaches the students how together, we can make a powerful impact!


2.  Consider the lighting of your building, both natural and artificial

Lights can make up approximately 25% of a school’s energy bill. The most sustainable lighting is natural daylight - not only is it a free renewable resource but also it has great health benefits. We know how hot our South African summers can be, therefore during our design process, we look at how to maximise natural light in a building whilst still maintaining indoor temperatures and reducing direct glare.

We also understand that there are certain days that you can’t solely rely on natural light and you have to use your lights. Standard light bulbs, also known as incandescent bulbs, can be highly inefficient as only about 10% of electricity is converted to light, and the rest is wasted as heat. Rather use Halogen or LED bulbs. As Halogen bulbs burn brighter, they use less electricity and last twice as long as the standard bulb. Light Emitting Diodes (LED) are extremely energy efficient and last much longer than the standard light bulb. These bulbs are more expensive, but with energy savings over time their cost is soon recouped.

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3. How to get the school community involved?


Every so often children either listen to their parents or teachers, but more often they listen to their friends! If a rule is being forced upon them, they often look to their friends for guidance. Encourage children to be part of a “green club” at school where they work under the guidance of teachers, helping plant herb gardens, vegetable patches and green spaces within the school property. If their friends are doing it, they’ll do it too! A school vegetable garden helps children understand where food comes from, and the care and nurturing it takes to grow healthy fruit and vegetables. They can even prepare a fresh meal using their vegetables that they have grown themselves!

There’s a huge opportunity for learning in the curriculum, because children really benefit from seeing how things become interconnected and why doing something to one item can have an effect on others. It’s a common refrain from a cynical middle schooler in math class: ‘Why do we need to know this?’ Well now, we’ve got a thousand examples
— The Heschong Mahone Group

4. What can you do in the classroom?

In the classroom, create a recycling corner that each child has a turn managing. This teaches children to get excited about recycling and gives them a sense of responsibility and leadership. Make sure to look out for some goodies that are being recycled that could be re-used such as bottle caps for classroom art displays or milk cartons for a stationery supply centre. This recycling corner can also generate a fun competition between classes seeing which class recycles the most materials each month. Create a “green data wall” where each class counts the number of bottles and cans in their recycle bins and weighs their recycled paper.

Children are the future of humanity, so if we want to cultivate a sustainable Earth, it is critical that we raise a generation that will be good stewards of the environment. If children are well educated on recycling from the start it will soon become a natural daily habit for them for the rest of their lives. Recycling really does make a difference and schools are a great start!

Respecting your site

There is something truly special about a structure that feels like it belongs exactly where it is. A feeling that the design has “grown out of the site” to become an integral part of the environment. This practice sets apart the outstanding architectural projects of our generation from the merely functional and is a driving force behind all of Evolution Architects’ work.

 
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Always design a thing by considering its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.
— legendary Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen

It all begins with a key design principle: having respect for context.

Having respect for context means integrating your design into its surroundings and being neighbourly to the local residents (humans, flora and fauna). It also means reinforcing the local distinctiveness of the area. In short, it is responding to what is already there.

 

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Responsive design

Great design never happens in isolation. It always begins with taking account of the context and responding to it in a positive way. Taking stock of what’s on the site and the surrounding area and tailoring a solution to fit it. A development should never feel like it could be anywhere in the world. It should take advantage of the features like trees, ponds and views to create spaces that are distinctive and full of character. This lends local identity and emotional connection to the functionality of the space, creating havens that people enjoy being in.

Responsive design also examines other structures in the area and the local patterns present in all the designs. These patterns are known as “urban grain” and includes roads, building types, building lines, open spaces and sub divisions. There may be a historical design style that you would like to reiterate or reinvent. Or perhaps offer a considered contrast, that still fits within the local identity. You can maintain local character by respecting elements like the height of surrounding buildings. This should reflect in your design by not necessarily matching the exact height but staying within the overall scale.


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Organic Architecture

Beyond responsive design, we have a responsibility to build structures that create harmony between humans and nature. This is achieved through a holistic approach to understanding what was there before you arrived and being sympathetic to it. Organic architecture views the buildings, furnishings, animals, plants and surroundings as part of a unified, interrelated composition. This enables nature to continue flourishing in harmony with you.

If you want your development to become more than a functional structure, allow Evolution Architects to approach your design responsively and organically.  Our highly trained team will do all the legwork needed to assess your site and the surrounding area, ensuring your final design is a timeless development that feels like it belongs nowhere else.

 


No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.
— Frank Lloyd Wright

Revamping your building: Alterations and Additions

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Architecture is about trying to make the world a little bit more like your dreams.

- Bjarke Ingels

 

Whether you’re a retail, commercial or educational property manager or a home owner, at some stage you will be faced with your building falling short of your needs. Maybe your business or family has grown past the space available, or you want to partition your building for different purposes. The process of renovating is exactly the same for all circumstances. Revamping a building can breathe life into its design, changing it into a contemporary space. It can deliver functional needs and spacial requirements. Sometimes these needs can be met with alterations - changing the existing building with more focus on the inside of the structure. Other times you will need additions - adding to the building with a holistic approach to inside and out.

 

Whichever way you go, engaging an architect will save you time and money in the long run and will ensure your investment delivers results. Before you do so, start by clearly defining exactly what you want out of the renovation. Make a list of things you need and want and find some reference pictures of relevant structures, spaces, colours and textures that excite you.

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If retail is your game: do your spaces feel dated and dysfunctional? Is the design of your structure directing traffic into your store/ stores and giving customers a reason to visit and stay longer? If your building accommodates a company, think through the needs of the business. Do you need meeting rooms and open plan work stations or extra offices? Do you need a smart way to connect spaces and separate others? Educational buildings frequently need to be updated to cater for growing student populations or the development of new sporting and academic arenas. If your your home is the focus, how do you want it to feel? Are you an entertainer that needs an open plan kitchen or do you need an extra room or more for family growth?

 

In every situation, let the plan grow around you. With a clear idea of what you want, an architect will be able to develop the best solution. You may not even need to add to the structure.

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This where we at Evolution Architects begin our renovation projects. By clearly defining the brief, we can offer you value for every rand you spend on the revamp. Once we know exactly what you want and need, we get to work assessing the structure and site; developing a custom solution for your needs.

Using a holistic approach, we utilise everything currently available, from the roof, floors, windows and walls, to the sites electrical setup, plumbing and vegetation. We consider every aspect so that no opportunity for customisation and efficiency is missed by our solution. We take advantage of your site, using the sunlight and natural environment to dictate material choices and alignment. See last months blog for a detailed description of site alignment. Visit our last blog here.

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Importantly, we also consider the views of your additions from all points of the site. The finished product should represent you or your company beyond mere functionality. It should be something you love to look at from every angle. Our renovation projects generate word of mouth publicity. People visit the revamped sites to enjoy the fresh environment and leave feeling inspired. They talk about these experiences with their family, friends and colleagues, directing more visitors and business your way. 

If you are looking to renovate a building, contact us. We have firsthand experience in revamping structures across the retail, commercial, education and residential markets with outstanding results. Don’t settle for just making do, let us help you refresh your building in ways you never thought possible.

Smart Architecture: The importance of site orientation

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With the rising cost of utilities and our diminishing resources in South Africa, it has never been more pertinent to design sustainably.

 

One of the most fundamental practices in sustainable architecture is site orientation. The basics are to examine your building site and take note of the natural environment. Identify the seasonal recurrences, prevailing wind patterns, the path of the sun over the plot and natural resources such as trees. Site orientation drastically increases the energy efficiency of your home while decreasing the effect of your building on the natural environment. It affects the heating and cooling of your building, and when done right will help you maintain an optimal temperature in your living environment. The effect on your bottom line is noticeable, reducing the need for aircon in summer and heating in winter.

 

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Although this trend is currently gaining traction, it is based on an ancient building practice called ‘passive solar’ that has been around for thousands of years. Let the orientation of your site guide the design of your home, the plan of the rooms and the angle of your building on the property. The ideal orientation for passive solar is having the main axis of your roof running from east to west. The sun’s path is lower in the sky in winter and higher in summer, resulting in more direct sun on the sides of your house in winter, and your roof taking the brunt of the sun in summer. Trees and walls can also be used to increase the effectiveness of your orientation. Tall trees to the east of your home will offer shade in summer and will not block the sun’s rays in winter.

 

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The internal plan of your rooms should also take your site orientation into account. With South Africa’s hot, summer climate in mind, plan your living rooms like bedrooms, kitchen and lounge away from the sun. The rooms which receive the most direct summer sun can be used for laundry rooms or garages. As an architectural firm that specialises in green design and sustainable principles, Evolution Architects makes site orientation a priority. Doing it right from the start will give you an optimal home in the future. We take all environmental factors into consideration, including:

·      Seasonal and diurnal (day and night) temperature ranges.

·      Humidity ranges.

·      Wind patterns, including hot, cold and wet winds.

·      Seasonal recurrences.

·      Impact of the local natural environment and features on climate.

·      Impact of adjacent buildings and existing landscape.

 

If you need assistance with building your dream home, contact us. Together we can design something spectacular that meets your specific needs and tastes and is optimised to your site. We’ll make sure your home is comfortable all year round and utilises its natural environment.