The historical evolution of buildings and the importance of energy performance in the design and construction of houses

New technologies, materials, and changes in societal structures have changed the way buildings are designed and constructed


Through the history of civilisation, humans have built shelters to practise their social activities, while having protection against weather, wild animals, and other human beings. Over the course of time, dwellings have evolved to respond to climate challenges, available materials and cultural expectations in a given location. Such buildings include the open courtyard building design.

By time, new technologies, materials, and changes in societal structures have changed the way buildings have been designed and constructed. Reinforced materials increased the strength of constructions, and hence played a vital role when designing buildings.

After the Second World War, these changes led to the creation of modern architecture. It was related to social and political conditions, to the evolution of materials and to technological advancement, which brought innovations. New materials, such as iron and steel had an impact on building constructions. New building techniques, using reinforce materials and steel structure, changed the forms of buildings from the robust stone architecture to a slenderer one.

Modern architecture can also be characterised by houses taller than 6 floors, which were rare earlier. With the invention of the elevator and management of water pressure, the height of buildings increased significantly.

Since the start of the postmodern architecture, in the middle of the 20th century, the world had reached new heights of population growth rates. This architecture has been criticised for being populist and not engaging itself in contemporary social and environmental issues. Human population, consumption patterns, and economic growth have increased the demand for natural resources.

Modern lifestyle has reached a stage where ecological services are used faster than nature can regenerate them, and humanity has become more dependent on energy. For example, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems in buildings became widely used to improve indoor comfort.

Due to the realisation of the finite nature of natural resources following the middle of the 1970s oil supply crisis, the relationship between building design and the environment moved from only ensuring enough thermal comfort to promoting energy efficiency.

It was during this time building regulations in many countries started to include aspects of thermal performance of building fabrics and in recent years also the reduction of greenhouse gases. Today, the sustainable construction movement is international in scope.

Buildings affect the environment during their entire lifetime, which include production of material, construction, operation, maintenance, disassembly and waste management. During these phases natural resources are consumed, land is used, waste is produced, and emissions are released to the environment.

The effect on the environment may remain many years after a building is demolished. With business as usual, the environmental impact of the building sector will increase in the future due to increased demand for better indoor comfort, increased time spent indoors and global population growth.

It is also a challenge to provide a sufficient number of dwellings for a growing world population while maintaining a high standard of living and good thermal comfort. As a measure to realise this potential, the European Parliament approved the Directive on the Energy Performance of Buildings in 2010, which was eventually revised throughout the years until when in the year 2021,  all Member States were obliged to establish national building renovation plans.

This directive was revised in the context of the Fit for 55 legislative package, designed to reduce the European Union’s greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030. In the same year, that is 2021, Malta launched the Long-Term Renovation Strategy, a strategic framework for the renovation of the building stock over a 30-year period, from 2020 to 2050.

This presents long and medium-term strategies for speeding up energy efficiency by renovations. This, in turn, requires the people involved in the design and construction of houses are trained and pushed to make energy efficient houses.

Currently, the Building and Construction Authority is inviting professionals possessing a degree in architecture and/or civil, built environment, building services, mechanical or electrical engineering at MQF level 6 recognized by the University of Malta or equivalent to attend the ‘Energy Performance of Dwellings in Malta’ EPRDM course.

After successful completion of this course together with a two-day CPD course qualification, one becomes an assessor of buildings and thus able to survey various properties of the building which need to be considered in the Energy Performance Certificate calculations. Among other things the assessor will survey the construction materials and insulation levels, the types of doors and windows, the ventilation features and the type of cooling and heating systems present.

With so much emphasis now on energy efficiency, it is highly expected that more people will begin to rely on the results of a properties energy performance rating performed by a qualified assessor, not only when considering purchasing or letting their property but also to know the energy efficiency of their building.

As a matter of fact, an assessor may recommend a number of ideas for your particular property to improve the building’s energy efficiency, to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions and to also reduce the yearly energy expenses.

More in Business