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Eco-Minimalism: Why Simplifying Architecture is More Sustainable Than You Think and 5 Ways to Put It Into Practice

In contemporary construction, buildings have developed into intricate structures, incorporating a wide range of components, systems, and multiple material layers, each with specific functions. The provision of these elements heavily relies on an extensive global supply chain. Moreover, these complex structures require substantial energy for their operation, resulting in increased power demands. This approach comes at a significant environmental cost, from heightened resource consumption to amplified carbon emissions, highlighting the need for a reevaluation of our architectural practices.


In contrast, the concept of eco-minimalism emerges as a powerful alternative. It transcends surface-level aesthetics and architectural trends, advocating for pragmatic, highly effective solutions. This design philosophy rejects the notion that sustainable architecture must be synonymous with high costs or complex designs. Instead, it emphasizes that sustainability can be achieved through an elegant embrace of simplicity. In this article, we will delve into the core principles of eco-minimalism and present five actionable strategies to integrate it into architectural projects.

Written by Danielle Khoury Gregorio.


1. Refusing Unnecessary Components:


The first strategy advocates for a careful examination of each component within the architectural design, with a focus on determining its true necessity and ensuring it fulfills a crucial function without redundancy, thereby reducing material consumption.


One practical application is to refuse unnecessary finishes. While the overall material use for interior design components is notably smaller compared to that for the building structure, internal finishes have a much shorter service life and are frequently replaced over the building's lifespan. This way, the material usage over the entire life-cycle becomes quite considerable [3]. Considering the use of exposed surfaces of structural elements and MEP systems as part of the interior design concept, for example, could result in substantial material savings. 


Another approach within this strategy is to reduce building layers by utilizing materials with multiple functions. For instance, blocks that simultaneously serve as structural elements, insulation, and finishes highlight the elegance of mono-material construction.

2. Prioritizing Passive Strategies: 


The eco-minimalist approach takes a departure from energy-intensive systems and costly add-ons like wind turbines and photovoltaic panels. Instead, it encourages a fundamental shift in perspective, placing emphasis on reducing energy consumption and resource utilization within buildings. At its core, this strategy upholds the principle of "reducing demand before increasing supply" [2]. Architects are tasked with giving precedence to passive design principles right from the project's inception, avoiding the need for active systems. This involves a thorough evaluation of elements like landscape and climate to tailor the design to local conditions. This encompasses critical aspects such as optimizing building orientation, meticulous detailing of external walls, implementing effective insulation, incorporating sunshades, harnessing natural ventilation and lighting, and adopting a strategic approach to form and structure. All of these considerations work in tandem to effectively tackle the specific challenges posed by the local environment.


Through the adoption of these passive strategies, architects achieve a dual objective: they not only lower energy consumption and enhance the comfort of building occupants but also make significant strides in reducing the overall carbon footprint of the building.

3. Utilizing Raw Materials in Construction: 


Embracing local, raw, and natural materials is another cornerstone of eco-minimalism. In stark contrast to highly processed composites, materials of natural origin often possess a reduced or even negative carbon footprint and require less energy for production. Additionally, they do not contain harmful substances to human health and are biodegradable. Beyond the environmental advantages, this approach also resonates with the ethos of cherishing the innate beauty of unaltered elements, resulting in spaces with a genuine sense of authenticity.

4. Respecting the Landscape: Symbiotic Integration


Another pivotal strategy lies in approaching new projects with profound sensitivity towards the natural environment. This principle advocates for designs that seamlessly integrate with the existing landscape, striving for the most minimal ecological impact possible. Architects, therefore, should emphasize a meticulous understanding of the terrain's topography, the diversity of local vegetation, the climate and the dynamic ebb and flow of natural cycles. This understanding, coupled with a conscientious selection of construction materials and techniques, ensures that the project coexists in harmony with its surroundings.

5. Enhancing Material Efficiency:


The fifth strategy aims to optimize material efficiency by prioritizing effectiveness and performance. It encourages the use of composite systems or streamlined shapes that operate with maximum efficiency, rather than excessive use of materials, especially in complex structures. This approach involves avoiding inefficient volumes of building materials, like those needed for high-rises, transfers, long spans, cantilevers, or deep underground structures [3].


One effective tactic involves opting for high strength materials that enable the reduction of the dimensions of the building structure components. Another critical aspect lies in understanding the pivotal role that form plays in the structural performance of a building. The form can be fine-tuned to optimize load paths through axial internal forces, resulting in a reduction of necessary material. For instance, this is exemplified in the application of vaulted structures, which excel in axial compression. Additionally, the form can be tailored to align with force lines, as seen in floor beams following the bending moment line rather than maintaining a uniform cross-section throughout [3].


Furthermore, composite solutions offer an innovative approach by combining materials to efficiently harness their inherent resistance to specific loads. This can be witnessed in the utilization of steel for tension and a combination of timber and concrete for compression.

A Purposeful simplicity that maximize human benefits:


An eco-minimalist design should be appraised not merely for its level of minimalism, but for its profound effectiveness in minimizing environmental impacts and maximizing human benefits. This encapsulates the essence of eco-minimalism: place emphasis on purposeful simplicity, where each element serves a critical function without redundancy. By adopting this approach, architects embark on a journey towards conscientious design. Through careful consideration of material choices, harmonizing with natural elements, and prioritizing efficiency, architects can integrate the principles of eco-minimalism into their designs, creating spaces that are not only visually compelling but also functionally efficient and environmentally responsible. 



[1] Heal, A. (2010). Building Simply: An investigation into the potential for Building Simply in the UK (MPhil thesis, Architecture). Cardiff University.

[2] Vangelista, G. (2022). Eco-minimalism and GAIA: Analysis of a building of high ecological value. Thesis, Corso di Laurea Magistrale in Architettura Costruzione e Città, Politecnico di Torino.

[3] Ellen Macarthur Foundation + ARUP Circular Buildings Toolkit /

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