What Is Ground Coverage In Architecture

We’ve all seen buildings and structures in our towns and cities, but how many of us actually understand the underpinnings of the design, what impact they have on the environment and how best they can be incorporated into our natural environment? Ground coverage in architecture is one such concept, essential to understanding how a structure can fit into its designated space, how it champions efficient use of resources and how it helps mitigate against negative impacts to people, the environment and nature alike.

Ground coverage is a measure of the total, combined area of all the buildings, walls and paths on a given piece of land. It commonly relates to the amount of impermeable surfaces that are in place, such as that created by hardscaping and constructed walls. Ground coverage can come in both effective and ineffective forms, depending on how these surfaces have been deployed, their angles and positioning, and how well the materials chosen fit in with the overall landscape. Poorly designed coverage can have a detrimental effect on the environment, so it’s important to get it right from the outset.

“Ground coverage is a crucial part of designing and constructing any building,” says noted designer Tim O’Hara. “It sets the stage for how a property is going to interact with the natural environment, how the public can interact with it, how much access can be allowed and the like. Getting it right requires real insight and appreciation of the lay of the land.”

At its simplest, ground coverage is a way of recording how much of a piece of land has been built upon. It’s a measurement of the physical features that make up the area; floors, walls, windows, driveways and paths. It’s a way of giving the bare facts to planners and developers of what the area looks like before any new works or refits are applied. With this kind of information, architects and designers can build up a picture of the area and determine the best techniques for transforming it in a way that’s beneficial to its users.

In the hands of skillful professionals, careful ground coverage is beneficial to the environment. Decisions on what to keep, what to remove and what to modify help give rise to greater biodiversity, help mitigate against flooding, encourage the growth of plants and trees, enable cleaner air and bring new visitors to the area. The right ground coverage also helps maintain habitats of birds, animals and insects, which can in turn reduce nuisance pests and the risk of disease.

This kind of displacement of land can often cause disruption to existing avian and animal habitats. But with careful planning, strategic execution and a clear eye on the overall goals of the project, ground coverage can become a powerful tool in regenerating an area, bringing new life and use, as well as aiding in sustainability efforts.

Design Principles of Ground Coverage

Ground coverage can be designed using some fundamental principles. These range from reducing building area ratios, controlling the type and quality of materials, to landscaping where possible. Keeping these in mind, the use of sustainable materials and the repurposing of existing or local materials for building should be considered.

The ratio of buildings to open spaces should be balanced. If much of the ground is to be covered by hardscaping, then methodologies for reducing the negative impact should be employed, including the laying of permeable pavers, which allow water intake. Flooring and walling should be designed to allow heat from the sun into the area below and through buildings.

Landscaping should play a role in any ground coverage design, again helping to take some of the stress off the environment. Planting trees and shrubs, allowing grass to flourish, providing seating and shade and sensible lighting can all bring life to an area and be beneficial for both nature and people alike.

Reducing the footprint of the structure can help reduce the ground coverage that’s needed, so the techniques of passive design – orienting the building to the North in sunny areas and using the sun’s rays to warm the building, taking advantage of natural airflows, shading structures when needed, and so on – can all help reduce the impact of ground coverage.

Review and Supervision

Ground coverage designs should be reviewed and discussed amongst all stakeholders, including the public, before any works take place. Reducing the area to be covered should be the primary goal, but efficiency, public access and the contribution to the local environment should also be considered. Obsolescence leaving the ground covered should be avoided at all costs. Complete reviews should be undertaken once works are completed, including an audit of the materials used, the methods employed and the overall impact to nature.

These reviews, conducted by experts, can help understand the potential advantages and risks associated in any given ground coverage, and should also include looking into the future for potential regression, lack of maintenance and further modifications. By taking the experience gained from conducting such reviews, ground coverage will become better designed and employed, and the environment stands to benefit from mitigation of environmental damage.

Sustainability Benefits

Ground coverage offers a powerful means of preserving and restoring nature’s balance. By maintaining proper ratios of covered surfaces to natural landscapes, biodiversity can be enhanced, flooding can be reduced and an overall healthier environment can be achieved. The goal should be to help the natural environment flourish while mitigating against the most damaging of habitat displacement.

The use of passive design principles can reduce energy costs, while the use of sustainable materials can help bring down the overall maintenance costs. Proper ground coverage can also help to bring in new users and businesses, creating opportunities of socio-economic and cultural development.

Conclusion and Midpoints

Ground coverage plays an increasingly important role in architecture, helping to pack more into less space in an efficient, cost-effective and sustainable way. Its techniques are progressing rapidly, as is its planning and execution, enabling ground coverage to work with nature and not against it.

Design principles of ground coverage involve the use of sustainable materials, the reduction of building area ratios, controlling the type and quality of materials, and landscaping where possible. Review and supervision should be conducted pre and post works, and an audit of the materials used should be conducted to ensure that sustainability benefits are met. With these measures in place, ground coverage can help towards preserving and restoring nature’s balance, creating a healthier environment now, and for future generations.

Anita Johnson is an award-winning author and editor with over 15 years of experience in the fields of architecture, design, and urbanism. She has contributed articles and reviews to a variety of print and online publications on topics related to culture, art, architecture, and design from the late 19th century to the present day. Johnson's deep interest in these topics has informed both her writing and curatorial practice as she seeks to connect readers to the built environment around them.

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