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  • Afonso Almeida Fernandes

the challenges of sustainable architecture

If, in one hand, the curricular plans in universities do not include areas dedicated to sustainable architecture, on the other hand, there is a weak/non-existent offer of training in the area of ​​sustainability, in the continuous training of professionals. As a result, we are left with a professional class with little knowledge of sustainable building practices.





The challenges of sustainable architecture in Portugal start from an early age, in the training of new professionals, but also in the definition of the concept itself, which goes beyond the use of sustainable materials.


According to the Portal for Sustainable Architecture and Construction (PCS), Portugal is one of the EU countries that registers a lower qualification rate in the area of ​​Sustainability, especially in the Architecture sector.


If, in one hand, the curricular plans in universities do not include areas dedicated to sustainable architecture, on the other hand, there is a weak/non-existent offer of training in the area of ​​sustainability, in the continuous training of professionals. As a result, we are left with a professional class with little knowledge of sustainable building practices and, consequently, with a scarce application of these practices in new projects that arise.


Of course, we must understand the very concept of sustainability based on environmental, social and economic issues, so that we do not make the mistake of creating a reductive vision of sustainable architecture.

Of course, these challenges are not just related to architecture, but are transversal to many other areas, where we can see that the full notion of the term sustainability is still poorly understood. Even so, there has been a growing awareness of its importance, with companies dedicating time and resources to sustainability in the most varied aspects. As this is a current issue, and to which most people are more aware, in the near future there will be more understanding and more offer, in the sense of including sustainability as a whole, in everyday life and in the top of mind of all of us.





Sustainable architecture can be defined, loosely, as the ability to create projects and buildings based on a set of principles and rules of their own. Of course, we must understand the very concept of sustainability based on environmental, social and economic issues, so that we do not make the mistake of creating a reductive vision of sustainable architecture, only as something green and environmentally conscious. In the case of our studio, we can look at the close collaboration we have with the association CAuSA, focused precisely on these three pillars of sustainability, with a markedly social component in the purpose of construction, but also environmental in the materials used and economic as a whole.


We can talk about cork, for example, which is a material of plant origin, waterproof, thermal and acoustic insulating and resistant to fire, making it, therefore, an emerging material in architecture. But if we start seeing its excessive exploitation, that could jeopardize production itself and compromise ecosystems, it becomes unsustainable.

But it seems clear to me that sustainable architecture, although focused on these three aspects, develops mostly on the environmental impact, with its main concern being its preservation. In one side we can look at constructions that benefit from the use of local and natural materials, and differentiated construction techniques; on the other end, we see large buildings built with a focus on the use of technology and environmental components such as green rooftops.


So for a more sustainable architecture project, the choice of suitable materials is essential for a lower environmental impact. But what are sustainable materials? It can be a material considered sustainable by its geographical location, for the particular use, for the concrete type of construction and, finally, for its application in the project itself.


We can talk about cork, for example, which is a material of plant origin, waterproof, thermal and acoustic insulating and resistant to fire, making it, therefore, an emerging material in architecture. Portugal, being responsible for about half of the world's cork production, can properly position itself for the use of this material in more sustainable projects. But if we start seeing its excessive exploitation, that could jeopardize production itself and compromise ecosystems, it becomes unsustainable.


We therefore understand that it is necessary to take into account the entire value chain of the material without forgetting the other pillars of sustainability, which makes its correct and full implementation in projects difficult. But that's not why we should stop trying and valuing the concept as a whole. The importance of sustainability is here to stay, so it is urgent that we dedicate ourselves more to the subject, from the beginning, in training, to the end, in implementation.