What Are The Features Of Sustainable Design?

Sustainability has become an integral aspect of contemporary architectural design. As climate change becomes an increasingly pressing concern, the need to create sustainable buildings that offer minimal environmental impact and maximum human comfort.

Sustainable considerations such as energy efficiency and water management are now regulated under national and state building codes, allowing today’s architects to conserve resources and materials and construct dwellings that work with their natural surroundings rather than against them.

According to figures reported in 2007, almost a quarter of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions result from energy demand in the building sector. With a prediction of 33,000 new houses being built each year in Queensland until 2026, sustainability has never been a more imperative aspect of our growing built environment.

Environmentally sustainable buildings attempt to minimise a building’s environmental impact through energy and water efficiency methods, using sustainable materials and landscaping that considers a site’s biodiversity and existing natural features.

Designing Solutions For Sustainable Architecture

Specific environmental design and construction factors include the following:


Design elements such as double-glazed windows for insulation, roof vents that allow hot air to escape, window shading, a light-coloured roof to reflect heat, and a hot water system located as close as possible to areas where hot water is needed can all improve a building’s energy efficiency. 

All new homes must now comply with the Building Code of Australia (BCA). An energy star rating out of 10 refers to the design of a building’s ‘shell’: roof, walls, windows and floor. The minimum rating for new houses and townhouses in Queensland is now six stars.


Hot water uses around 33% of the average Queensland home’s energy. Still, greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by 80% with a greenhouse-efficient hot water system, either a solar hot water system, an electric heat pump hot water system or a gas hot water system. To be considered sustainable, showers must be AAA-rated, meaning that they produce nine litres of water per minute.  


Constructing a sustainable building means using appropriate materials in the most efficient way possible. This could mean using recycled materials, avoiding onsite construction waste and creating elements such as run-off to waterways.

FAQs About The Features Of Sustainable Design

Buildings designed and built according to sustainable design principles can save energy, water and money while being comfortable to occupy. The sustainability objectives are to reduce consumption of non-renewable resources, minimise waste and create healthy, productive environments.

These include:

  • Efficient use of energy, water and other resources.
  • Use of renewable energy, such as solar energy.
  • Pollution and waste reduction measures, and the enabling of reuse and recycling.
  • Good indoor environmental air quality.
  • Use of materials that are non-toxic, ethical and sustainable.

Reduce emission of greenhouse gases, which will reduce global warming and help preserve the environment. Use of natural and biodegradable materials for reducing the impact on the environment. Emphasis on using renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy. Following non-polluting construction practices.

Landscaping & Site Impact

Effective landscaping involves working with rather than against a building’s natural surrounds—for example, retaining existing vegetation, landscaping in a way that requires minimal maintenance and water and creating an environment that allows local plants and wildlife to flourish.

Socially sustainable buildings are designed and constructed to address their occupants’ and visitors’ needs. They offer a healthy, comfortable, safe and secure environment that’s easily accessible and well suited to its surroundings.  

Specific social design and construction factors include the following:

Health & Comfort

The people living or working in a sustainable building should feel comfortable there, which means having access to an appropriate amount of space, privacy, ventilation and natural light. For example, if the longer walls face north, sun exposure is minimised during summer and maximised during winter.

Safety & Security

Buildings should be designed and constructed to lower the potential for accident and injury—for example, using non-combustible and low-formaldehyde materials and low-VOC paint and ensuring that entryways and pathways are easily accessible and well lit. In addition, security fixtures and fittings could include equipment such as sensor lights and alarm systems.

Economically sustainable buildings offer long-term financial savings thanks to energy-efficient design features, materials and appliances that keep ongoing running and maintenance costs low.

Specific economic design and construction factors include the following:

Construction Costs

During the design process, factors such as building size and materials should be considered for cost-effectiveness. Where possible, using local or recycled materials during the construction process can help lower costs and lead to long-term cost efficiency.

Running Costs

what are the features of sustainable design (1)Once a building is constructed, its ongoing maintenance costs are important. However, a building designed with sustainability in mind—i.e. using passive design elements and sustainable materials, fixtures and fittings such as solar panels and dual-flush toilets—will have lower ongoing maintenance costs due to reduced reliance on artificial light or climate control.

Sustainable Building

Sustainable architecture, as a contemporary green building concept, maybe new. Still, it has existed in some form or the other for centuries by using local materials and designs that respond to local environmental conditions.

As a 20th century construct, the green building movement tentatively began in the 1970s, with rising petroleum prices driving the need for more energy-efficient structures as well as renewable energy alternatives. Concern for the environment, which began in the previous decade, also played an important role in increasing popular awareness about the impact of buildings on the ecosystem.

Sustainable architecture, as we understood it today in 2019, is not only about using the right materials, limiting non-renewables and ensuring energy efficiency. A green building has to factor in every aspect of its lifecycle, right from siting, design and construction, through operation, maintenance and renovation, to end-of-life when the materials can be retrieved and recycled. Also important is the immediate environment around the building site, which needs to be preserved and protected against degradation.

Ensuring resource efficiency encompassing energy, water and materials, minimising and managing waste generation onsite to avoid landfill, using recycled or recyclable materials, selecting products with minimal carbon footprint during manufacture, and localising procurement to minimise carbon miles are just one part of the sustainable building journey.

Sustainable design considers factors such as building orientation to catch the sun and winds, placement of rooms, and sizing and positioning of windows for ventilation. In addition, the materials palette is tuned to energy efficiency and low-energy use with the effective application of insulation, seals, solar shading elements, low-emissivity glass, double- and triple-glazed windows, and high thermal mass building products. The passive design applies many of these principles to reduce energy consumption by as much as 40 per cent in sustainable homes.

A healthy environment is created for future occupants through non-toxic paints and finishes. Material selection combines high performance with low maintenance and long-term durability, ensuring a sustainable solution.

Very importantly, the application of renewable energy systems as an alternative to fossil fuel has driven power sources as well as energy-efficient equipment, water-saving fittings, LEDs, rainwater harvesting and greywater systems, natural materials, natural lighting systems, and green roofs, among others, takes buildings closer to their Net Zero energy and carbon-neutral goals.

Among trends influencing the future of green architecture are recycling of spaces through renovation, rehabilitation and adaptive reuse, use of local materials as well as organic materials, energy positive and Net Zero buildings, pedestrian-friendly cities, green roofs, water-conserving building design, smart energy-saving technologies, resilient buildings built to withstand floods and storms, and invisible buildings designed to meld with the natural landscape completely.

Famous architects that have made an impact on green building architecture around the world include:

  • American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, considered as one of the founders of sustainable architecture.
  • British architect Norman Foster.
  • Influential green architect William McDonough.
  • Italian architect Renzo Piano.
  • Pritzker award-winning Australian architect Glenn Murcutt.
  • Malaysian architect Ken Yeang.
  • German architect Rolf Disch among many more.

Measuring Sustainability In Construction

The Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) provides a good indication of the environmental performance of a building product. The objective is for manufacturers to assess the impact of their manufacturing process from raw material extraction to finished product and take corrective steps to minimise energy and water usage and carbon emissions.

  • BREEAM or Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology is used in the United Kingdom to assess and mitigate the lifecycle impacts of buildings on the environment.
  • LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – is a globally recognised green building rating system for practically all types of buildings.
  • NatHERS – Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme – is an Australian rating system that assesses energy efficiency and rates it out of 10 stars.
  • The WELL Building Standard tool monitors, measures and certifies built environment features that impact human health and wellbeing.

Sustainable House Designs And Eco Architecture

Clare Cousins Architects/ The Sociable Weaver

Victorian’s first 10 Star home is a display home, which is carbon positive, has a 10 Star energy rating, and is built to zero-waste and building biology principles.

Jean Nouvel/ Frasers Property and Sekisui House

The lush green landscape covers almost half of the building’s facade, creating a living environment for residents with hydroponic walls and horizontal planters. In addition, the plants function as a natural but seasonal sun control mechanism, protecting residents from harsh sunlight in summer and providing the sun’s warmth in winter.

Australian Islamic Centre

what are the features of sustainable design (2)Based on biophilic principles, this Melbourne mosque features 96 gold-painted lanterns facing North, South, East and West directions with natural light channelled through the coloured glass into the main double-height prayer area below. External louvres provide cross ventilation inside the building.

7 More London Riverside

The sustainable headquarters of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, the 10-storeyed 7 More London Riverside features a high-performance facade for shade and insulation, green roofs, solar hot water, a CCHP trigeneration plant providing low carbon cooling, heating and power, and an intelligent building management system that allows every worker to control both light and temperature at their workstation. 7 More London Riverside is also the first office building in England to achieve the BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ accreditation.

Payette Architects

The new Science Center accommodates state-of-the-art facilities to support the college’s science programs and students while promoting transparency and interaction. Natural materials, skylights on the roof, chilled beams, radiant slabs, acoustic baffles, and a photovoltaic array are some of the features in the flexible space, which also reduces energy usage by 76 per cent compared with a typical research facility.

Bnim Architects

Located in a remote corner of north-western Kenya, the high school serves a community of mostly subsistence farmers. BNIM’s design is driven by sustainability, considering the harsh environment and local economics. Built to house classrooms, offices, dorms and housing for teachers, the building was completed using regional materials and local labour, resulting in a zero net energy, zero net water structure.

Opsis Architecture

Oregon Zoo’s Education Center serves as a classroom to inspire visiting children to engage in sustainable activities by encouraging interaction between the built and natural environments. In addition to classrooms and meeting rooms, the Center features a Nature Exploration Station (NESt) that motivates visitors to get out and learn about nature. Solar panels, native plants, bird-safe windows and rain gardens are some of the sustainable features at the Center, which recently earned a LEED Platinum certification.

Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Architects

Built-in the 1870s and last renovated in 1949, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a prominent religious landmark in New York, drawing over 5 million visitors each year. The 21st-century renovation of the cathedral saw a 29 per cent reduction in annual energy use thanks to 10 geothermal wells, fully integrated new mechanical systems, and modern glass doors and structural glass walls to create an energy-saving enclosure.

Australia’s Most Sustainable Buildings

The sustainable architecture emphasises the minimum impact on the environment by increasing efficiency and innovative materials and technology. It focuses on self-sufficiency in terms of energy requirements, etc. The sustainable architecture employs a design approach that is sensitive to the ecological context of the built environment. As the climate crisis deepens, we find ourselves turning to sustainable architecture for answers. All over the world, architects have approached sustainable architecture in different ways.

The Council House 2, Melbourne

The Council House 2 in Melbourne was designed by Architect Mick Pearce and his team in collaboration with the City of Melbourne. The building aims to be a holistic design with its occupants as participants. Nature is used as an inspiration for various design elements, such as the façade that controls the climate. Technology plays a large role to achieve a design with a six-star rating by the Green Building Council of Australia. It has a gas-powered electricity and heat generation plant and solar panels, and wind turbines on the roof.

One Central Park, Sydney

The One Central Park development in Sydney aims to harmonise with the environment. The central courtyard is elevated to the 21st floor to form a lush green open space. The façade is covered in 250 species of native Australian flowers and plants. The program of the building is divided into two towers, 34 storey residential apartments and 12 storey service apartments, respectively, set over a retail podium. This development housing over 3000 residents and 65,000 sq. m. of retail and commercial space is heated, cooled and powered by a thermal tri-generation plant. 

Santos Place, Brisbane

Santos place is the largest building in Australia to receive a six-star green rating. This 41 storey tower has multiple sustainable technologies incorporated in its design. It has a gas-powered, energy-efficient tri-generation plant, rainwater harvesting system, greywater recycling system, passive cooling and heating features, motion sensor lighting, etc. The structure was constructed using 20% recycled concrete and 90% recycled steel. 

25 King, Brisbane

This nine-storey building is Australia’s largest engineered timber office building, most of which was prefabricated and then assembled onsite, leading to a reduction in onsite wastage as well as construction time. Moreover, the wood is sourced from sustainably grown Spruce tree forests. Other sustainability features include rainwater harvesting, optimised air conditioning, aluminium sun shading, energy-efficient lighting, etc.

Hopkins Street Affordable Housing, Moonah, Tasmania

This is an affordable housing project designed by Xsquared Architects for the Tasmanian Government Department of Housing and Human Services. The project’s features include efficient insulation and heating, communal solar panels, and solar hot water systems. In addition, community gardens have been designed with composting facilities, bicycle stands, clotheslines, etc. 

Australian Centre For Indigenous Knowledges And Education

The Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Education, or ACIKE of Charles Darwin University, located in Casuarina, NT, is a four-star rated building. It features controlled air conditioning as well as low-energy lighting. Rainwater and water from the building’s air conditioning were reused in the garden.

Gen Y Demonstration Housing, White Gum Valley

This project employs a ‘small and raw’ approach to the design of residential units, with sustainability and affordability prioritised equally. The design provides generous open and semi-open shared spaces. Common garden area, bike storage, etc., and gathering spaces are shared between the units and the street. This project is designed as a part of WGV’s One Planet Community project. 


So what makes a sustainable building? Simply put, it has minimal environmental impact while simultaneously meeting its occupants’ various needs. Sustainable design and construction elements can be categorised according to the three pillars of sustainability—environmental, social and economic.

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