Best Practice in Environmental and Sustainable Architecture
Olweny, Mark R. O.
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Sustainability as a concept has been around for centuries. Writing by Vitruvius over two millennia ago emphasised the need to harmonise architecture with nature. (Vitruvius 1914) Throughout the ancient world – in Africa the Americas, Asia and Europe – it was possible to find evidence of human adaptations to the influence of the sun. In New Mexico we find cave dwellings - hillside shelters utilising the constant ground temperatures to maintain a satisfactory level of thermal comfort, while in the humid tropics of Indonesia, breeze houses are the norm. In Africa we see variations, from the thick walled huts of Southern Africa – a response to the cool temperate climates of the higher latitudes - to the more breezy huts of central Uganda, while the Bedouin of the Arabian Desert use the simplest of elements – a sheet of cloth - to keep cool or warm in the dessert. These responses enabled our ancestors to survive in climates that were in some cases anything but hospitable. The use of the term ‘Sustainability’ in connection with the built environment is more recent; first arising in a publication entitled “World Conservation Strategy”, published in 1980 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (Steele, 2005). It was however not till the publication of a publication “Our Common Future” by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987 that the concept of sustainable development truly came to the forefront. Central to the findings of the Commission was the concept of Sustainability, defined as being development “…that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (World Commission on Environment & Development, 1987, p8). Since the publication of “Our Common Future” report, there had been a concerted effort to engage built environment professionals, policy makers and the public in debate to get sustainability and environmentally responsible principles on the table as a worthy discourse. While for the most part the basis for legislation has been put in place - in Uganda the existence of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) is testament to this effort - there are still fundamental problems that prevent the implementation of environmental sustainable principles on the ground. Most important is a general lack of awareness of the pertinent issues, and even more significant is the lack of readily available contextual information. Further, with all the institutional instruments in place – at least on paper, the degree of implementation is and will continue to be extremely low. This is partly because of the fact that it is easy to set down rules governing professional activity, but it is an entirely different matter, making people aware of the issues, and in establishing standards of excellence, put simply codes do not motivate people to act. (Collier, 2005). The purpose of this paper is twofold:- Firstly to shed light on the basic concepts of passive solar architecture, environmental design and sustainability in the context of Uganda. This will be taken from the point of view of ethical, sociocultural, professional and technological issues which highlight the complexities of sustainable architecture, but more importantly putting it in the context of the Ugandan situation; Secondly to showcase examples from Uganda where these practices have or are being implemented with existing technology and resources; - Thirdly, it will highlight some pertinent issues that need to be addressed in order to increase the awareness of passive solar architecture and sustainable design in Uganda.