Sustainability has been defined as the need to preserve existing natural resources so that the earth is able to continue to provide these resources for future generations. Put more simply, a sustainable system is one that survives or persists (Costanza and Patten, 1995). In order to ensure the sustainability of architectural and building activity, it is essential that work in this field is conducted in accordance with the canons of basic ecology and, in addition, that its members seek to address certain cultural and relational characteristics that typify the way we live today.
Architecture as a discipline combines technology and art; however, with the advent of “sustainable architecture” additional concepts from the fields of ecology, sociology, and philosophy have been incorporated. Yet, the fundamental problem is that the meanings of both the classical and the new concepts remain ambiguous, their significance shifting with our cultural evolution. Hence, the traditional Vitruvian values of architecture (beauty, structure and utility) are no longer so obvious, especially when we are required to think in terms of sustainability. Although the question as to why architecture matters has been answered in a variety of ways (Glaeser, 2011), it is our contention that in the 21st century architecture will matter more than ever, because by 2050 most of the world's population will be concentrated in cities. As a result, the sustainability of dwellings and cities has acquired undeniable importance.
Two interacting forces influence all populations. One is the Malthusian dynamic of exponential growth until environmental limits are reached (Figure 1). The second is the Darwinian dynamics of innovation and adaptation that circumvent these limits through biological or cultural evolution. Nekola et al., in 2013 reported that the specific manifestation of these two forces in our current society provide the context that establishes how humans may develop sustainable relationships within our finite planet (Figure 2). Consequently, a permanent and indefinite growth is impossible due to the physical and biological imperatives of our finite world.
Biologists and architects and constructors usually inhabit different worlds. The latter innovate, deploy, and apply their techno-science based designs; the first, study the finite nature, propose hypotheses, and gather their evidence. And, to date, there is little to suggest that copying nature purports any advantages to architects, primarily because fully autonomous buildings or towns have yet to be built. According to the described Malthusian-Darwinian dynamic, the two critical questions that we seek to address in this paper are: i) What is the essence of a sustainable dwelling? and ii) What principles should be adhered to in making a dwelling sustainable? In other words, this study aims to elucidate the essence of sustainability in green building design implementation.