The Big Picture

Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. License: CC BY 2.0.

OVERVIEW

It’s easy to get caught up in the details—earning one more LEED point or getting that documentation you need for recycled content.

But it’s a lot easier to achieve all the project goals if the owner and the whole project team are in agreement about why you’re putting in all this work in the first place. Stuff like:

  • slowing down climate change

  • dealing with global water shortages

  • avoiding depletion of nonrenewable resources

  • preventing public health problems associated with manufacturing

  • righting social wrongs

Here we set the scene, providing context that can help get—and keep—everyone on the same page about project goals.

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  • Social Sustainability and Architecture

    Primer

    Architects can increase social value through thoughtful design of the built environment.

  • Ethnography: A Creative Tool for Human-Centered Design

    Primer

    Social science research methods can generate innovative and sophisticated design solutions that respond to human needs and cultural values.

  • Our Buildings Are Killing Our Oceans

    Primer

    Carbon is more deadly than many other toxic substances we fret about every day. And acidification might be more of a problem than climate change.

  • Net-Positive, Regenerative Design, and Other Ways Buildings Can Do Good

    Primer

    Instead of making a big fat net-zero your goal, regenerative design encourages whole-systems thinking and projects that actually add benefit to the environment.

  • Sustainability: Too Much or Not Enough?

    Primer

    The drive toward sustainable design is a long one. Are we there yet?

  • Ecosystem Services

    Primer

    Functions performed by intact ecosystems provide essential support for human life, but how do we quantify their value?

  • The Water-Energy Connection

    Primer

    The production of electricity is highly water intense, just as the transport, heating, and cooling of water is energy intense. So saving energy saves water and saving water saves energy.

  • The Precautionary Principle

    Primer

    The precautionary principle employs "guilty until proven innocent" methodology, and suggests that we should avoid using questionable chemicals and materials until we know they're safe.

  • Synthetic Gypsum

    Primer

    Synthetic gypsum, used in drywall, is chemically the same as virgin gypsum but is created from a byproduct of coal-fired power plants. Are designer and contractor concerns about heavy metal contamination justified?

  • Permaculture for Urban Design

    Primer

    Permaculture promotes food production and nurtures ecological systems in both rural and urban environments.