Sustainable Architecture: A System Approach

Introduction: Understanding Sustainable Architecture

Considering the system approach, sustainable architecture can be viewed as a practice of architectural discipline, which seems to arise as concepts and strategies based on common themes of sustainability (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). This process of change in the institutional settings depends on the continuation, small shifts, fundamental transformations, or replacement of issues such as political events, changes in technologies, scientific discoveries, calamities (actual or imagined) or economic practices and processes (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). Sustainable architecture thus can be viewed as the notion that takes care of the relationship with its natural environment and is associated with labels such as, ‘green’, ‘ecological’, and ‘environmental’ that were traced back to 1970s (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). Emerging from the same period, different approaches labelled as ‘low energy’, ‘solar’ and ‘passive’ were used to reduce reliance on fossil fuels to operate a building (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). Further, in a system approach sustainable architecture is represented by three subsystems i.e. environmental, economic and sociocultural as a triple bottom line (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). These three subsystems are discussed below in detail.

The Environmental subsystem:

Greenhouse Effect

The environmental subsystem is an undisputed aspect of producing a sustainable architecture (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). There are several environmental effects that we are considering here such as the greenhouse effect, the thinning of the ozone layer, carcinogens produced by building products, heavy metals pollution of waterways, the mounting problems of waste disposal or conserving precious water resources (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). Furthermore, there is a concern related to the exhaustion of mineral resources, the long-term storage of radioactive waste or the survival of trees and frogs (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). Thus, in environmental subsystems, there are both, emissions in the way of pollution and extraction from the natural resources which act as inputs and output to the subsystem (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). Historically they have been treated as separate issues where emissions involve the release of substances in the environment and use of raw materials used in the building involves the extraction of substances from the environment (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002).

The Economic Subsystem:

Green Economy possible with sustainable architecture

The economic subsystem, performance is concerned both with resource allocations between projects which are appropriate and should proceed and within choices of particular products and services of a project. (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). The decision making about the individual economic activity in a society about the input (material, labour, capital, etc.) and the output (goods, services, asset production, etc.) can take several forms and are influenced by multiple factors (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). Capitalist societies are market-driven economies and are, structurally dependent on capital accumulation (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). It provides the foundation for state taxation revenues, continuing employment and for future investments (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). However, such economies are driven by capitalist greed, entangled into short-term imperatives, and materialistic needs of the society are seen as the reason for environmental and social problems (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). This is a neo-classical viewpoint where they see the economic growth through competitive markets, deregulation, privatization and integration into global economies (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). While others chose to focus on equity, reducing poverty, encouraging resource conservation, ecological limits and regulations as the way forward (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). Other than these two viewpoints the economic subsystem is concerned about the lifecycle of a building and its components and how the building will perform using optimum available resources throughout its programming, design, construction, maintenance, repair, renewal, and disposal phases (Lacasse and Vanier, cited in, Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002, p.96). For the designer, it means balancing the present requirements against the possible uncertain requirements of the future (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002).

The socio-cultural subsystem:

Social Cultural Values

The socio-cultural subsystem, which prominently emphasises on maintaining the cultural diversity throughout the globe and is seen as an integral part of sustainable architecture (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). This is because historically speaking it has shown that culture becomes the source of adaptation and innovation (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). In socio-cultural subsystem, the sustainability depends on the human capacity to transmit knowledge to the future generations (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). Traditionally, different cultures and societies have always kept on changing with time and so is the concept of sustainable architecture (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002). These societies and cultures are not just referred to their geographical locations and the regional architectural style is irrelevant in this context (Bennetts, Radford, & Williamson, 2002).

Sustainable Architecture – way forward

In Conclusion, we have seen how a system approach affects sustainable architecture as a whole and how three subsystems i.e environmental, economic and socio-cultural are developed as its foundation. Removal of one will prove to be fatal sustainable architecture. We have seen above how a system approach to sustainable architecture brings its different components under one roof and try to deal with it comprehensively. The point here is that the system should work, and rest will fall into place.


Bennetts, H., Radford, A., & Williamson, T. (2002). Understanding sustainable architecture. Retrieved from

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