Blue vs Green design! Is there such dilemma? Blue design must not be neutral and passive, instead it must be active, producing more than we consume

This interview of Dr Anna Grichtig Solder was published by Qatar Construction Sites monthly magazine of October 2014 and is republished here for its unique and genuine quality of the avant-garde thinking of Dr Anna Grichtig Solder.

What if the buildings we live in could produce more energy than they consumed or even, what if their occupants could grow their own food in the edible gardens on the top of the roofs?

Dr Anna Grichting Solder is an advocate of the “blue design” concept, a new approach in designing buildings and landscapes.

Dr Grichting, who is an assistant professor at Qatar University, speaks to CS on “blue design” and how the concept could be realized in such an environment as Qatar’s and why sustainability in the state is changing hues from green to blue.

  1. In your research approach, you question if green is really the color of sustainability for a country like Qatar. Could you please tell us more on this?

One thing I have realized in sustainability is that we have to think in systems. Usually we tend to think separately about architecture, landscaping, urban design; we think of water, energy and all as separate concepts.

We have to think of buildings, landscaping and urbanism as an integrated system as a symbiosis among them. Symbiosis is about interaction between two organisms and typically to the advantage of both.  For example, buildings can produce more energy than they can consume and the water they use can be recycled for surrounding landscapes, the trees can be planted in a way so that they will produce shade to buildings and help cool them.

In countries like Qatar where natural water sources are scarce and which depends on desalination, the focus of the research is always concentrated on the food, water and energy nexus, underscoring an increasing need to develop integrated approaches to their sustainable production and preservation.  In this case, we have to explore new paradigms that affect architectural and urban design where places should be designed to go beyond carbon; produce more energy than consumed and recycle the water used for the surrounding landscapes.

That is where the “blue design” concept, adopted by Saatchi & Saatchi applies. I teach students to integrate additional elements like green roofs into the design and to think of all sustainable elements in advance and how they could be beneficial to the building.

  1. From where did the “blue to-green” concept come?

When I first arrived in Qatar, I used to hear lots of talks about green building and about “green” as the color of sustainability: of course, green is the colour of an oasis in desert, but is green really a color of sustainability for a dryland area? A beautiful green lawn consumes much water and is maintained by pesticides and herbicides that are harmful to people, animals and birds. It seems to me, water is a fundamental issue here. Blue design looks at how we can best recycle water – grey and black water, preferably onsite, using natural and organic systems.

Recycled water can be reinjected into buildings’ water systems or recycled for landscaping and food production. The idea of food urbanism reflects sustainable systems design for smart cities and food production increasingly becomes an integral part of the architecture and urban realm. For instance, an edible garden in the Qatar University building can be useful for both students and workers there.

The question here is how we can transform a building not just into carbon neutral but also to make the building productive and useful for the community. With “green design” we talk about carbon neutrality while “blue design” creates places that go beyond carbon neutrality and actually add back to the world.  So designing the building that produces more energy than it consumes is an example of a blue design. Blue design, for me, must not be neutral and passive; instead it must be active, producing more than we consume, literally to give back.

  1. What can this new approach bring to the local architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry?

This new approach to design represents a fundamental shift in how engineers, designers and architects should view the challenges of local projects and thinking in systems, rather than designing icons.  The measurements of successful design in future will include the level of giveback the project generates for its occupants as well as to the greater global community.  The future of the design and planning sector will demand an intervention and an expertise of a wide range of professionals such as economists, biologists, chemists and also a range of social science experts such as demographers, anthropologists and geographers.  Here, I would also accentuate on the role of landscaping or softscaping as an integral part of the project and has to be addressed at the same stage as hardscaping.  Landscaping is used to be considered at the later, if not final, stage of construction, as the cherry on top of the cake, for the project to look attractive. In landscape urbanism, which is developed by renowned architects like James Corner and Chris Read with the sustainable ecological imperative, landscaping has to become a foundation of urbanism and architecture.  In fact, before designing any construction project, one has to consider landscaping, geology, water resources and local ecology. Thus, landscaping becomes a foundation rather than an icing on a cake.

  1. What’s your opinion about sustainability and how can you describe it in relation to the local focus on the term?

The concept of sustainability is very complex. Let’s start from the fact that any development which is being built and with the energy that one uses for it cannot be sustainable initially and becomes only sustainable when operational and also if the building is operated strictly according to the designers instructions. Any new development which is being built cannot be called sustainable, unless it is operational on a long term. So “sustainability” is not an absolute concept, it is a relative concept and it became as a buzzword in the region that everything has to be sustainable.  Personally speaking, I adhere to the saying that sustainable “means done for the future”.  If I can quote native Americans, any decision we make, we have to take into consideration seven generations ahead. Sustainability isn’t new, it is embedded into different cultures. The way the things are built, produced and recycled. For this reason, I adhere to the thinking in systems; such approach leads towards sustainability.  A sustainable building has to be smart and to be monitored to make the best use of all its sustainable features, thus here once again we have to think in systems.  To my opinion, the tower itself cannot be sustainable, unless it contributes to the surrounding landscape, public realm or to the community.  Sustainability has to be holistic and smart and integrated into system.

For more articles of the same magazine, please read