The Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) attended the higher profile COP21 in Paris in December last year, and is represented by the World Green Building Council (WGBC) this year. COP21 generated major global support for the Paris Agreement, which was ratified by 55 countries, to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below two degrees Celsius. The building sector has a significant contribution to make in rapidly reducing emissions.
At COP 21, the GBCSA made an ambitious commitment to introduce a net zero building certification scheme, target 2,500 commercial green building certifications – representing around 10 million square metres of gross building area – and 10,000 residential green building certified homes in South Africa by the year 2020.
On Friday, November 4, the Paris Agreement came into force. Now, COP22 is focusing on implementing the agreement and fine tuning details such as financing for developing countries.
As a big part of achieving its green goals, GBCSA aims to change South Africans’ perspectives on the built environment by sharing a better understanding of the ways that green buildings achieve a range of environmental, social and economic goals. Biophilic design is one such way.
Buildings with biophilic design help reduce stress, enhance creativity and clarity of thought, and improve overall well-being. As the world’s population continues to urbanise, these qualities have become increasingly important.
The term biophilia, which means the love of life or living systems, was first used by social psychologist Erich Fromm to describe people’s attraction to all that is alive and vital. Biophilia suggests humans have a biological need – physical, mental and social - for a connection with nature. This connection affects our personal well-being, productivity, and social relationships.
Often thought to provide an explanation for why humans are captivated by the likes of crackling fires and crashing waves, or comforted by animal companionship, biophilia may also help explain why some urban parks and buildings are preferred over others.
Brian Wilkinson, GBCSA CEO, explains: “While people have been farming for over 12,000 years, modern cities have only become common over the last 250 years and, today, there are more people living in cities than ever before. Projections show that 70% of the world’s population will live in cities in the next few decades. Figures from the World Green Building Council reveal that more than half of urban areas projected for developing countries by 2030 are yet to be built. How we build these cities will define our future quality of life. This is yet another reason why designing buildings with people and nature in mind is an imperative.”
Connecting people with nature can range from bringing nature into a building – by incorporating plants, daylight, fresh air, water features, courtyard gardens and nature views into an interior workspace, to using fabrics and finishes that evoke nature, as well as artworks, ornaments, building elements that mimic natural and organic shapes, and materials such as grained wood and natural rock.
Biophilia can be applied in many ways to change dreary urban settings into stimulating environments, from engaging with nature by taking a walk in the park to interacting with animals or simply having a view of greenery from the window.
He adds: “Green building goes beyond conserving and protecting the environment. It benefits everyone and everything exposed to the built environment - people, planet, and profit. Biophilic design is an aspect of green building that looks specifically at the human needs affected by the built environment. It’s a key quality of buildings that supports the wellness of building users.”
Taking into account how quickly an experience of nature is proven to elicit a restorative response, Wilkinson asks why is it that businesses all over the globe spend billions each year on lost productivity due to stress-related illnesses? “By incorporating a design that reconnects us with nature, we provide people with better opportunities to live and work in healthy spaces,” says Wilkinson.
He reports that while green building has grown as a concept, not only in South Africa but the rest of the world, it is essential to constantly find new ways of improving the built environment.
“This is imperative, not only for the sake of the environment, but for our own growth and development as human beings,” says Wilkinson. “The need for urban design and architecture that considers the environment and reconnects people to an experience of nature for their well-being has become an absolute necessity.”
As the GBCSA enters its 10th year, many South Africans have already started to benefit from better work and living spaces - spaces that take into consideration their personal needs as well as those of the environment - with green building propelling to the forefront of property development in the country. In September this year, the GBCSA had issued 200 certifications to South Africa’s green buildings.