Sustainable Architecture

Sustainable design or ecological design (also referred to as green design, or sustainable architecture) is a philosophy of designing buildings to comply with the principles of social, economic and ecological sustainability.

There are many stages to effective sustainable architectural design. Green building design involves a number of stages:

Sketch Design

This stage is also known as concept design. It involves the inspection of the site to assess the conditions and constraints as well as meetings for briefing purposes to establish the master planning or long term objectives for the site, detailed accommodation requirements, and discussion of design aesthetics before you get started with any type of conceptual design. This is usually something you would do with an your building planner or architectural team.

Preliminary analysis of authority regulations and requirements should also be undertaken during this stage - if necessary, you should also meet with the authorities as required to discuss your project requirements. The next stage is normally then to prepare sketch design drawings including concept sketches, diagrams and other information to explain the proposed design solution. This stage normally includes preliminary selections of materials and finishes.

Detailed Design

Once you are happy with your "sketch design" - further design details need to be considered, including the resolution of the constructional systems, materials and finishes in accordance with the project budget and site constraints - you would do this in collaboration with your building's designer until you are both happy with the both the design and budget.

At this stage you should usually be able visualise you sustainable building using a computer generated 3D model which will even include "fly-throughs" so that you can fully grasp the design proposal.

After further discussion and prototyping (it's usual that you might have additional requirements of second thoughts about various design elements). Your architect will then develop the approved sketch design into a final design solution and prepare the requisite drawings and schedules listing materials and finishes to explain the scheme.

During this stage, your sustainable building designers/planner will also co-ordinate the design work being undertaken by the other consultants to ensure that they comply with the architectural intent of the scheme. If you intend to project manage all or part of your building project, then you may be responsible in part for managing this process, a well as performing your own due diligence on building materials, suppliers and other contractors who may become involved in your project.

At this stage you will generally also start preparing the necessary documents for any planning applications that may be required by the authorities and assist you with lodging the application. If you are in building NSW then you should be aware of BASIX assessments which applyl residential developments throughout NSW with a total estimated cost of works of $50,000 or more.

Contract Documentation

This stage involves the preparation of drawings including plans, elevation and sections, together with other details and schedules to enable the project to be approved by the authorities, tendered and constructed. During this stage you will also need to co-ordinate and integrate the work of the other consultants to ensure the success of the project. Once all documentation has been completed you will need to lodge documents for building approval and then call tenders for the works.

Contract Administration

This stage involves the organisation of the tender process so that you can obtain a number of competitive prices from reputable builders before choosing which builder you would like to engage for the construction of the works. After closing the tenders you should then analyse and assess the submissions with your building planners and your architect.

Once you have selected the builder you would like to engage, your planners would typically prepare a three-party contract that is approved by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects and the Master Builders Association for signing by all parties.

This contract will generally allow a sustainable building planner to act as your representative in all negotiations concerning construction quality and monetary payments, thereby offering you a degree of protection in an area that you may not be familiar with.

During construction - unless agreed otherwise - your planner will also undertake periodic site inspections, check work in progress regarding design quality control, materials selections and performance requirements as described in the contract documents.

A good sustainable building planner will also review shop drawings and other builder's submissions and provide extra details, information and instructions as required to ensure the success of the project.

Alongside your planner, you should also arrange to attend site meetings, administer variations to the contract if required. It's also important that you review and assess claims from the builder and issue progress certificates accordingly. If necessary, your planner will also help you assess and dis/approve claims for extension of time co-ordinate the other consultants, prepare defects lists prior to practical completion and assess rectification work before processing the final contract account.

For more information on sustainable building design please visit

The Green Building Council of Australia provides a wealth of great information. The GBCA is a non-profit organisation that is committed to "developing a sustainable property industry for Australia by encouraging the adoption of green building practices". Their site is full of great information including fact sheets and information for people who are interested in certifying a project (via the Green Star Foundation Course).