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IELTS READING LEVEL 6.5 – Designing from Scratch

Designing from Scratch

by ReadWorks



Open up a newspaper, click on a news website, or peel open the latest magazine. Chances are you’ll find something about a new technology. You may read about the latest digital enhancements in smartphones, or maybe something about advancements in green technology-that is, how to reduce our environmental impact. Whatever that technology might be, it all started with an idea regarding engineering design.

Typically, the process of engineering design starts with a problem or a need. For example, let’s consider the hypothetical building of a new apartment complex. Our task is to construct a green, sustainable city building. This will allow residents to easily commute to their workplace, hopefully without cars in order to cut back on air pollution. However, there are several considerations that need to be addressed. We must consider various things: potential energy sources, waste disposal, materials of the new building, and water sources. To make these decisions, it is best to define a precise task with criteria and constraints. What is the budget? What materials are available? If questions like these can be answered early on in the design process, it is more likely that the designed solution will be successful. Therefore, it’s important to go through each consideration one by one to determine the best possible solution.

Building Materials

First, the question must be asked-are we building on an empty lot, or are we replacing an old building? If it’s the latter option, we must face the decision of completely tearing down the old building, or utilizing the current space and renovating it for our design. As previously mentioned, our goal is to be sustainable, which means our building should be built using methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources. We want to have the minimum possible negative impact on the environment. To attain our goal, we could demolish the old building in order to use new, sustainable technology; however, we would have to purchase new building material, which isn’t necessarily sustainable, since we’re not recycling. Or we can use the skeleton of the old building, but this may limit our use of modern technology. Unfortunately, there are tough decisions to make during the design process-sometimes there isn’t one option that is clearly the best. Therefore, it’s important to weigh the good against the bad, and move on from there.

Energy Sources

Since the task is to build a sustainable building, we should consider sustainable energy sources. It might be easier to use non-renewable energy (which is considered less sustainable than renewable energy), because it’s often more readily available. However, our task is to create a sustainable building, so we need to find sustainable energy sources. Solar panels could be an option, if we are building in a sunny area. Another option might be wind energy, generated by large wind turbines. Furthermore, it is important to think not only about generating energy, but about saving that energy. Insulation is an important factor to consider, as it helps keep the heat in during the winter and makes sure the building doesn’t get too hot in the summer.

Waste Disposal

Because our goal for the building is sustainability, a baseline requirement for tenants of the building should be recycling and composting. For this reason, it is important to provide recycling and composting services to the building.

Water Sources

Imagine we are building in an area known for having a high amount of rainfall. Since the city is covered with streets and buildings, the rain isn’t absorbed by the ground. This may lead to flooding. When planning our building, it is vital to try to prevent flooding by absorbing storm water runoff. Possible solutions include roof gardens, rain gardens (gardens planted in a lowered hole to soak up excess water), and flow-through planters (which temporarily relieve water runoff). All three of these solutions can be implemented in the building. As long as they are properly maintained, the gardens can greatly contribute to reducing flooding after large rainfalls.

The Solution

From this example, we can see how many decisions are involved in the design process. And these aren’t even all of them! There are many, many more decisions involved in the construction of a new building. However, the design process is made much easier by setting specific tasks and defining constraints. This way, you can focus on providing the best possible solutions.



consideration       con ·sid ·er ·a ·tion



  1. attention or thought given with care.

The teacher gives some consideration to the problems of each student.

  1. respect or concern for the needs of others.

Please show each other some consideration.

Advanced Definition


  1. careful attention or thought.

We must give consideration to this problem.

  1. a factor that must be taken into account in making a decision.

The cost is one consideration we can’t overlook.

  1. respect or concern for the needs of others.

Please show me some consideration.

Spanish cognate

consideración : The Spanish word consideración means consideration.

These are some examples of how the word or forms of the word are used:

  1. Earthquakes can trigger landslides, which may continue even after an earthquake has ended. This is an important consideration for emergency personnel who may rush in to aid the injured and put themselves in harm’s way from landslides.
  2. Hawking used the word “survive” and gave his estimate of a timeline, thus making the idea of space colonization sound urgent. This is a subject the physicist has given prior consideration. In a 2010 video, Hawking spoke at greater length on the subject.
  3. Kolby barely raised an eyebrow away from his corn considerations, yet quickly replied, “What’s really weird is that there are these wasps that spend their entire lives inside figs. They’re born there, they die there, they never leave! Well, the male wasps at least.”
  4. Maybe the least costly solution would be to eliminate the ramp and the stairlift, and simply clear a path to an elevator. Test it out. Is the route leading to the elevator wide enough for a wheelchair? Is the elevator itself wide enough? When thinking up solutions and performing tests, you must take into consideration a whole variety of variables-in this case, factors like cost, efficiency and safety levels.
  5. There’s a common saying among scientists who study teens: “Children are not little adults.” Teens’ bodies differ from those of both older and younger people. Their organs work like kids’ organs, but their hormone levels are closer to those of adults, so treatments can cause more side effects, says Johnson. That’s not the only reason more research is needed. Many cancer treatments affect future fertility-the ability to have children- which is a “huge consideration in adolescents,” Johnson notes.


constraint       con ·straint

Advanced Definition


  1. the act of confining or restraining.
  2. the state of confinement or restraint.

He nearly went mad during his constraint in prison.

  1. something that compels, confines, or restrains.

He thought he would be happier without the constraints of a regular job.

She felt the art school was too conservative and put constraints on her creativity.

  1. embarrassed reserve.

He felt a constraint that kept him from speaking up.

Spanish cognate

constreñimiento : The Spanish word constreñimiento means constraint.

These are some examples of how the word or forms of the word are used:

  1. Constraints are the things that stop you from doing whatever you want to meet your criteria. The most common constraint is cost.
  2. Now that you’ve thought of as many answers as possible to the problem at hand, test them and adjust them according to your test results. There are countless ways to evaluate solutions with respect to how well they meet the particular criteria and constraints of an issue.
  3. If one of the crucial goals of the mousetrap project was to leave caught mice unharmed, the process must prioritize that constraint. Once a new, nontoxic adhesive has been developed, the product will go back into testing. This process will be repeated until all of the conditions and constraints of the project have been satisfied.
  4. The inverted siphon only functioned correctly if the fire burned consistently, a factorthat couldn’t be guaranteed. However, given a set of problems and the basic criteria for the way people built their homes in 1741, when Franklin invented his stove, the equipment he came up with is still viewed as a solution that addressed the constraints of the problem he was dealing with.
  5. Life is full of problems. But for each problem there is a solution, or series of solutions, and by evaluating these solutions we are able to find the best course of action. A resolution for a problem can only be met after evaluating the criteria and constraints of a problem. Often this can take years of possible solutions and reevaluating issues, but it is in this way that we are able to put forth a new result.


sustainable       sus ·tain ·a ·ble

Advanced Definition


  1. capable of being continued or maintained over time.

He claims that without developing new fuels, our current way of life is not sustainable.

  1. of, relating to, or being a method of managing or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.

Spanish cognate

sostenible: The Spanish word sostenible means sustainable.

These are some examples of how the word or forms of the word are used:

  1. However, by carefully planning the locations of renewable energy power plants, their harmful impact to the planet can be minimized and their renewable and sustainable benefits maximized.
  2. Robinson is an American writer. The Mars trilogy is his bestknown work. Robinson is also an active outdoorsman. Themes of ecological sustainability run throughout his work, as do questions of social justice.
  3. To be certified as a fair trade product, a farm must adhere to some important rules. First of all, farming practices must be earth-friendly. Sustainability is a big issue for farmers worldwide, and fair trade organizations take it seriously. If a farm can’t treat the land well, will it also treat its workers poorly?
  4. Scientists have found that the most effective way to reduce soil loss from erosion is to increase the amount of vegetative cover (from grass, plants and trees, for example) on the ground. In recent years, there has also been a gradual shift toward more ecologically conscious agricultural practices. Societies around the world have begun to feel the devastating effects of decades of unsustainable agricultural practices and deforestation, and many have started taking preventative measures.

Name: ___________________________________ Date: _______________
Comprehension Questions
1. The process of engineering design typically starts with what?
A. a detailed plan
B. a set of criteria
C. a need or a problem
D. building materials
2. What is a solution provided for the problem of flooding in cities?
A. rain gardens
B. solar panels
C. wind turbines
D. recycling services
3. Read the following sentences: “We must consider various things: potential energy sources, waste disposal, materials of the new building, and water sources. To make these decisions, it is best to define a precise task with criteria and constraints.” Based on this evidence, what conclusion can be made?
A. A successful design does not require strategy or forethought.
B. The most important consideration when designing a building is energy source.
C. Criteria and constraints will hold you back in the design process.
D. Designing something requires a logical, planned approach.
4. What is an example of renewable energy?
A. gas
B. wind
C. oil
D. coal
5. What is this passage mostly about?
A. things to consider when designing a sustainable building
B. sustainability and the green technology movement
C. how the process of engineering design starts and ends
D. ways to improve and speed up the design process
6. Read the following sentences: “First, the question must be asked-are we building on an empty lot, or are we replacing an old building? If it’s thelatter, we must face the decision of completely tearing down the old building, or utilizing the current space and renovating it for our design.”
What does “latter” mean as used in this sentence?
A. a hard decision
B. a new building
C. first of two things
D. second of two things
7. Choose the answer that best completes the sentence below.
There are many things to consider when designing a building, ________ energy
sources, water sources, and building materials.
A. ultimately
B. on the contrary
C. including
D. therefore
8. What does “sustainable” mean?
9. Compare the advantages and disadvantages of demolishing an old building versus renovating it.
10. How would you design the most sustainable apartment building? Support your answer using information from the passage.
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