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A “methods bank” for the generation of sustainable designs

generation of sustainable designs

To design more sustainable buildings and avoid replicating designs that perform poorly, new tools, methods and sources of inspiration are needed.  

This is the view of Dr Jeremy Gibberd, a professional architect with specialist expertise in sustainable built environments. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on methodologies for integrating sustainability into built environments in developing country contexts.  

Gibberd’s argument is that replicating current conventional designs and buildings, will not deliver the performance required to achieve climate change targets, and the Sustainable Development Goals.  

4 key focus areas  

To break the loop, he outlines four areas of focus for creating a more sustainable built environment: 

  1. New conversations with clients are needed to focus the brief on needs and the future, instead the wants and immediate returns. The development of mutual understanding and a shared vision leads to better results. 
  2. With this in mind and after examining the site, sustainability targets can be determined. These will drive the project. 
  3. The generation of designs and built form should work with natural forces and characteristics present in, and around the site. These include sun and wind patterns and topography. Passive design methodologies that draw on ambient conditions and that use what is readily available on the site, are part of this. 
  4. Testing and modelling are very important to determine whether client needs and sustainability targets will be met. Where targets are not met, designs need to be refined iteratively until these are achieved.  

The City Centre Sustainable Housing Design Competition 

Gibberd states that many important and interesting questions need to be tackled, and new thinking and design are needed for housing in South Africa. The City Centre Sustainable Housing Design Competition (CCSHDC) aims to achieve this. The CCSHDC is a joint initiative of the CIB Working Commissions in Smart and Sustainable Built Environments, and Construction in Developing Countries. 

Entry is open to teams of undergraduate architectural students and students in other disciplines at 13 South African universities. 

The generation of sustainable designs 

In a presentation for the 2024 CCSHDC students, Gibberd put forward the following suggestions as a “methods bank” for the generation of sustainable designs: 

Needs and aspirations 

Generating designs to respond to people’s needs and aspirations, driven by an understanding of the diverse (age, culture, income, etc) nature of future occupants. 

What works 

Study existing patterns, such as land uses, pedestrian movement and activities around and on the site. By understanding how these patterns work, they can be drawn on in new designs. 

Capabilities and characteristics 

These include existing topographic features, vegetation, water flows and microclimates on the site, which can be integrated and developed in designs. 

Form generation 

Generate responsive building layouts, forms and systems, through an understanding of local sun patterns, rainfall, wind patterns views and topography. 

Passive design 

Through analysis, passive environmental control strategies that respond to local conditions can be identified. This provides comfortable internal conditions with minimal energy requirements. 

Events and change 

Envisaging, presenting and analysing future events and change, such as very heavy rainfall, can be used to design buildings that accommodate these events and changes, and are more resilient. 


Presenting and working with buildings as systems can help a person to understand how these systems work, and thereby develop a highly efficient design. 

Circular economy 

Drawing on ideas and methods from the circular economy can be used to develop buildings and systems that are inherently more sustainable. 

Think local 

Drawing on local materials and skills can be used to develop designs. This supports the development of a more resilient, sustainable local economy, creating jobs and enterprises. 

Future change 

Envisaging future change can be used as a design input. This can be used to prolong the life of buildings and avoid them being redundant when change occurs. 

Living and working 

There are an increasing number of models of more sustainable living and working that can be explored and supported in new designs. 

Optimising designs 

Design methodologies that develop designs to achieve defined targets can be used to drive high-performance buildings. This can use iterative design and simulation approaches. 

New thinking, better results 

There are often attempts to make conventional designs “green” or “sustainable” by adding items such as bike racks and rainwater harvesting. However, Gibberd cautions that this ‘checklist approach’ misses the opportunity to achieve the high sustainability performance that is inherent in integrated designs, generated using new and advanced evidence-based approaches. 

It is time for the built environment to take a different approach. Instead of the development of inert objects, responsive dynamic buildings which shape more sustainable living and working patterns, are needed. 


Issue: How can we design netter sustainable spaces.  

Solution: A “methods bank” of suggestions to improve sustainable design generation. 


For more information, contact Dr Jeremy Gibberd: 

Tel: 082 857 1318 



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