Sustainable Architecture's 5 Foundational Principles

Sustainable design and Salt Lake City go together like coffee and donuts. Salt Lake City is a perfect environment for sustainable architecture because of our unique climate that is part semiarid and part continental, depending on whose scale you want to use. Our geography doesn't hurt either. We have all the right ingredients in Salt Lake City to test and develop sustainable technologies that will drive the architectural design of the future.

At the foundation of sustainable design are five basic principles as outlined by the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. Needless to say that sustainable architecture is about more than just saving energy and improving insulation. It is about making the best use of our resources without needless waste or environmental damage.

Without further delay, here are the five foundational principles of sustainable architecture and design:

1. Taking Full Advantage of the Sun

Sustainability is most often associated with energy use. This is no coincidence. Our current energy infrastructure is built on the use of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. But these energy sources will not last forever. Therefore, sustainable design in Salt Lake City and elsewhere relies heavily on natural sunlight as an energy source.

We use both active and passive strategies to harness solar energy. For example, we may install photovoltaic panels to convert sunlight into electricity. That would be an active strategy. In terms of passive strategies, we may orient a new building to take full advantage of the sun throughout the year.

2. Indoor Air Quality Improvement

As the National Building Museum points out, the average American spends up to 90% of his or her time indoors. Unbeknownst to many, indoor air can be even more polluted than outdoor air. Therefore, the second foundational principle of sustainable design is to improve indoor air quality. We do this through the use of ventilation and filtering technologies designed to remove as many pollutants and toxins as possible.

3. Responsible Land-Use

Sustainability is as much about protecting the land as it is conserving energy and improving air quality. A sound strategy for sustainability looks to work with the land in the architectural design rather than against it. Such a strategy involves a number of things including utilizing less land for construction, leaving more land open for recreational purposes, and minimizing the environmental impact of any construction project.

4. High-Performance Architectural Design

While the optimization of sunlight is at the top of the list of sustainable design in Salt Lake City and elsewhere, it goes hand-in-hand with designing high-performance structures that waste as little as possible. Most homes and commercial buildings compete internally to find the right balance between comfort and conservation. High-performance architectural design improves the “internal envelope”, as the National Building Museum to describes it, to maintain comfort with less waste.

5. Use of Natural Resources

Another foundational principle of sustainable architecture is the wise use of natural resources for building purposes. Our supply of natural resources is finite, so building indiscriminately without regard to how quickly we use such resources is anything but sustainable. The wise use of natural resources includes timber management, use of recycled materials, and the development of new synthetics that can be safely used without harming the environment.

Sparano + Mooney Architects is proud to contribute to sustainable design in Salt Lake City and beyond Utah to projects located throughout the American West, in California, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana and Wyoming. We believe sustainability is unquestionably essential to maintaining a bright future for our children and grandchildren. We find great satisfaction in knowing that we are creating beautiful buildings in a way that is environmentally responsible yet still structurally and aesthetically sound.


1.      National Building Museum –