What can a special issue on sustainable and
healthy housing contribute to the widespread ongoing
debate? Well, there is a need for good examples,
for successful strategies and for "stepping
stones", meaning that better practices are based on
acquired experience. Also, the young generation
has to be prepared for state-of-the art sustainable
principles and products and not to treat them as
The topic of Sustainable and Healthy
Housing was boosted by pollution issues in the
1960's and the two energy crises in the 1970's. The
generation that became aware of environmental
effects has retired now. Since 1987 the Brundtland
report formed the guideline in global climate meetings,
for instance the summit in Rio de Janeiro in
1992 and in Kyoto in 1997. It took until 2005
before the Kyoto Protocol was ratified. The ambitions
for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions
have been set and policies at the national level are
being executed. The generation that received its
advanced education then is in power now.
Sustainability is on the agenda, but is not mainstream.
The second generation recognised the
early adopters as innovators and demonstrators,
they were confronted with the call to get involved,
but this involvement has had minor effect on global
sustainable performance quality. This situation
creates pessimists and optimists. The pessimists
blame the economic crises for the drawback in sustainable
policies. The optimists see a worldwide
awareness and popular support and take the crises
as a challenge to change priorities. In the Special
Issue we follow the optimists, because the conditions
for change are available: the proper knowledge,
the technical solutions for better sustainable
performance, the money to do it, the wide support
and last but not least, the creative imagination to
follow a new path toward a sustainable world.
The third generation visits colleges and universities
now and they can become fully prepared to adopt
an integrated sustainable reality: CO2 neutral, sustaining
in the social and economic meaning, with
high quality urban developments. However, we are
not there yet.
We face many challenges.
The course designer in higher education is facing
the challenge to create the expert specialists on sustainable
issues. Should sustainability be part of all
courses, or be treated as a field for specialists? Two
teachers discuss this challenge and opposing views
illustrate that preparing the next generation of
experts in all kinds of fields poses important dilemmas
(Itard and Van den Bogaard)
Climate change indicates an increase in
extreme weather conditions, with regions where
draught and other regions where extreme rainfall
will cause problems: deserts and deltas. Large cities
generate a micro climate with overheating and
negative side-effects on health and comfort and.
An example is provided of what an extreme warm
period brings about in houses in the London city
area (Mavrogianni et al.).
Energy is still the keystone in sustainable performance.
In buildings, the environmental load is
often not determined by construction activities, but
by the energy use and maintenance activities over
the exploitation period of 20 years for installations,
35-50 years for fašade elements or even 100 to
200 years for the main building structure. Heating
and cooling and the periodic maintenance activities
are the major parameters of the environmental
load over the life cycle of the building. Energy efficiency
of the built environment is a major policy
goal. Three articles focus on promotion of the sustainable
performance and in particular of the energy
performance. Strassl, who is a key figure in promoting
sustainable building in the city of Salzburg
in Austria, brings a first hand account of the important
role that local authorities have and the type of
instruments that support the high ambitions.
Mlecnik is deeply involved in promoting passive
houses and renovation according to the passive
house standard. He evaluates 11 projects of energy
efficient renovation in Belgium and discovers
that demonstration projects contribute to the diffusion
of innovations in the housing sector.
The energy consumption or the ecological
footprint is very much influenced by user behaviour.
Little is known of the effects of different occupancy
patterns and user behaviour typologies. This is a
topic for future research. However, occupants that
were involved in the design and execution of refurbishment
projects have a better understanding of
complex technologies that control indoor climate
and save on energy consumption than unprepared
users. Participation in planning creates a learning
environment in which users learn how to be in control
of the environment and how to adapt to circumstances
that are in conflict with comfort or
health. Participative design promotes user oriented
solutions, for instance robust control features and
environments, designed to support positive social
interaction and a sense of identity. Suschek-Berger
and Ornetzeder focus on the role of occupants in
collective sustainable refurbishment projects and
argue that participation promotes better plans. The
role of occupants is also crucial in urban renewal
projects. Participation is one way to empower people
to take better control over the neighbourhood.
A social stable neighbourhood that can adapt to
changes, for instance influx of immigrants, is a sustainable
neighbourhood. Physical and social sustainability
are connected. Wassenberg looks at the
policies and processes of 50 years of urban renew-transition periods, with changes based on shifting
urban problems and on paradigm shifts. The latest
shift is the withdrawal of the central government,
while he comes to the conclusion that a stronger role
of authorities in solving urban problems is needed.
The focus is now on the social quality of neighbourhoods.
The urban renewal strategy has become
more interactive and integrative and more dependant
on private investments. Blueprints for future
ideal environments have been replaced by programs
and processes. Focus on the poor part of the
population shifted to community building: social
sustainability is very much a social process. Low carbon
cities can only be achieved in vital communities
that support climate related strategies.
Health is the quality of life here and now and
as such the human aspect of sustainability. The relationships
between the environment and health are
apparent, but not specific: many indicators of health
hazards, health perception and of physical and
behavioural influences interact. The paradigm shift
is from focus on hazards to the effect of hazards.
Evidence based priorities are set, making slips, trips
and fall accidents relatively more impartant and the
traditional focus on the triggers of asthma and other
respiratory problems less important. Ormandy, who
is deeply involved in the development and use of the
Housing Health and Safety Rating System in
England, explains the shift from defects to the effect
of defects. Health promotion through better -evidence
based- performance of housing is the result of
this new approach.
The social performance quality is emerging as
a robust indicator of integrated sustainable performance.
Where occupants play an important role, for
instance in cooperative housing, semi-public spaces
emerge as a buffer between private and public
areas, while the quality of semi public spaces has a
low priority in mass-produced commercial developments.
Outdoor spaces are an indicator of the sustainable
quality of housing areas. Hussein et al.
compare traditional with contemporary housing in
Palestine and discover that the poor quality of outdoor
spaces in modern housing conflicts with social
sustainability, but also with ecological sustainability,
because of higher cooling demand and related
The special issue opens with an overview of
topics in building energy and environmental health
that are important. The impact of climate change on
housing and health was explored. This article is illustrative
of the emerging focus on the effects of climate
change adaptation and mitigation.
Housing managers face the dilemma of constantly
picking low hanging fruit or of improving the performance
level of retrofitting projects to the highest
possible standards of energy saving or sutainable
performance. The passive house strategy represents
the high-end option and claims positive results in the
The local community has a key role in bringing
together different stakeholders to reach high performance
quality in urban restructuring and renovation
projects. Effective instruments range from design
contests to subsidies that increase in accordance
with the proportion of the sustainable and health
performance level. In England, instruments for
assessing and improving housing health and safety
are in operation, with attention to the effect of
defects in housing.
Different strategies are followed to include the
occupant in housing maintenance and renovation
and to optimize the mutual benefits of social
processes and technical measures.
The contributions show that the scale of sustainable
and healthy housing is the neighbourhood
and city, which includes the social and cultural
dimension of individual buildings. The time frame is
the future starting today, and learning from the performance
now. The popular concepts of sustainable
neighbourhoods are renovation, community building,
urban restructuring and climate change adaptation.
All is interwoven and the professionals in the
field are learning to deal with open ends. The professional
world takes an interest in example projects,
while the involved stakeholders consider each individual
project as a demonstration. Well, sustainable
and healhty housing follows patterns, a stepping
stone strategy and a learning by doing approach.
The perspectives are education, sustainable communities
and climate change.
OTB research Institute for the Built Environment,
Delft university of technology, Delft, the Netherlands
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