• Enrique Sissa

How Does Sustainable Architecture Impact Design?


3D Archviz Residential Exterior

As the need for sustainability affects industries across the board, sustainable architecture has moved from being “nice to have” to “must have.” The building and construction sector is under increasing pressure to move to sustainable building practices. In 2021 alone, the industry accounted for about 39% of the process-related carbon dioxide emissions; 11% of which was caused by the industrial manufacturing of building materials such as glass, steel, and cement, according to a UN 2020 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction report. In response, the industry has begun sustainability initiatives to effectively manage and reduce emissions.

Sustainability in the Built Environment

Sustainable architecture is about more than reducing the impact on the environment. It’s also about ensuring the health and comfort of building occupants, thereby improving building (energy) performance. That’s according to the US General Services Administration (GSA), which defines the basic objectives of sustainability as reducing consumption of non-renewable resources, minimizing waste, and creating healthy, productive environments.

Government regulation, consumer awareness, environmental awareness, and economics have brought about new best practices. The building and construction industry is recognizing that adopting sustainability-informed, best practices have two major impacts

  • improved ROI via energy performance

  • improved reputation through meeting Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria

Improved ROI is achieved through optimized energy usage, lower maintenance costs, and tax breaks. Green buildings have higher property value and tenant appeal, who are willing to pay a premium to live and work in healthier buildings. Further support for this is shown in studies that report businesses offering the wellness perks associated with green buildings enjoy reduced employee turnover and improved productivity due to less sick leave.


What is a High-Performance Building?

According to The Constructor, “A high-performance building is a building that unifies and optimizes all the major high-performance attributes, including energy conservation, environment, safety, security, durability, accessibility, cost-benefit, productivity, sustainability, functionality, and operational considerations.

Here, high performance means designing, constructing, and operating facilities with a strong focus on sustainability, integration, collaboration, and feedback and data collection.”


Consumers are making sustainability a top priority: “With 79% of consumers changing purchase preference based on products’ social or environmental impact, marketers are racing to capitalize with sustainability messaging” according to Forbes. And, it’s positively affecting the design of residential, commercial, educational buildings, and more.

4 Key Considerations to Achieve Sustainable High-Performance Design

Architects need to consider various sustainability parameters — carrying out district feasibility studies, ensuring code compliance, aiming for net zero emissions, and carrying out carbon analysis. All this while also ensuring cost-effectiveness.


1. Sun Analysis, Wind Analysis, PV Potential, and other Energy Models

Is there sufficient or too much light inside? Building occupants should be able to take advantage of daylight, without being bothered by glare. Spatial Daylight Autonomy (SDA) assesses whether a space receives sufficient daylight on a work plane during standard operating hours on an annual basis. Annual Sunlight Exposure (ASE) identifies surfaces receiving too much direct sunlight that may cause visual discomfort (glare) or additional cooling costs.

Solar exposure examines how much energy the sun hits the building and where. To this end, shading and photovoltaic (PV) studies must be carried out. Thermal load calculations are required to establish what strategies can be utilized to lower energy consumption and increase performance.

Wind analysis identifies wind direction and intensity. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) can provide accurate simulations which alert architects to potential issues, identify extreme spots, and plan air handling systems intake and exhaust locations.

(use a sun analysis image from the platform)

2. Taking a Net-Zero Energy and Carbon Approach

PV Solar system energy tool from the SWAPP platform
Energy tool, SWAPP platform

This approach aims to increase energy efficiency, ensure building decarbonization, and the use of renewables.


The net-zero approach offsets energy use with photovoltaic (PV) panels. Energy can be generated by placing PV panels on the roof, facade, and/or parking as well, thus optimizing space use.

3. Carbon Life Cycle Assessment

Embodied carbon and carbon emission need to be calculated throughout the project, i.e., how much carbon is embedded in the construction materials. Energy models calculate operational energy use and carbon footprint.


4. Ensuring Code Compliance

Analysis needs to be undertaken to ensure the proposed design complies with the energy codes of the specific location. What if the project reaches sustainability goals that exceed code compliance? LEED or BREEAM energy performance analysis needs to be undertaken and design options need to be created to ensure certification standards are met.


4 key considerations to achieve sustainable high-performance design: environmental analysis, ensuring code compliance, taking a net-zero energy and carbon approach, and conducting a carbon life cycle assessment.

Determining Cost Effectiveness

This brings us to the bottom line: evaluating project financials as far as sustainability metrics are concerned. Informed decisions can be made by looking at conceptual design cost studies of MEP system options, annual energy cost, and sustainability characteristics.


Let’s take a simple example: testing different features such as two different types and sizes of windows.

  • If the better / larger window costs more but reduces energy consumption, does it justify the investment? How does the window choice affect the building performance?

  • How can optimal ROI be achieved and over what period of time?

Achieving 1-Click Sustainability ™ with SWAPP All these considerations are quickly answered using SWAPP. The AI architecture design and planning solution delivers all this information within minutes, keeps the design progress moving at a fast pace, and dramatically boosts efficiency in the architectural process. SWAPP swiftly calculates key building design parameters. This gives clients the ability to determine the most cost-effective designs to comply with code-mandated energy performance and achieve higher levels of sustainability.


Interested in learning more about SWAPP’s sustainability tools, click here to talk to an expert.