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But we can always look back in time to find solutions
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But we can always look back in time to find solutions

An apartment building with red, yellow and blue external features


It’s been ClaimTechnology is the solution for the climate crisis. Better technology can prevent climate change by separating economic growth and its effects on the environment, through energy efficiency improvements. CatastrophicGlobal warming

This argument overlooks one of the many aspects. RealismThis new technology has encouraged extravagant consumption, from private cars and planes to large-scale kitchens and air conditioning in countries with milder climates.

Technology has also caused what’s called the “Rebound effect”: where improving energy efficiency leads to cheaper energy and therefore higher rates of energy consumption. A more fuel-efficient vehicle will, for example, reduce your average fuel costs per trip. This will likely lead to more trips and less energy savings.

A similar trend appears in architecture, where advances in artificial cooling, heating and computer-aided design have – rather than creating more efficient designs – actually introduced WastefulBuilding styles

In My work, I call this phenomenon the “architectural rebound effect”. This effect is particularly evident when we look at how building façades (the “skin” that covers buildings) have evolved over the past 100 years.

Façade failures

The Cité de Refuge residential building in Paris, designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier in 1933, boasts one of the earliest examples of a façade made entirely out of glass. Its summer indoor temperatures reached upto 86°C, despite the absence of windows or air conditioning. 33°C – making it a “notable failure” in architecture.

To fix this, the façade was fitted with external shading devices and about a third of its glass was made opaque. Computer simulations showed that the new design significantly reduced indoor summer temperatures. below 25°C.

From the 1950s, fully glazed façades without shading devices began to dominate city skylines thanks to increasingly efficient and cheap air conditioning systemsThis allowed the temperature inside these buildings to be controlled.

However, these new glass boxes were not without their environmental problems. For example, ResearchStudies have shown that office buildings built in Manhattan, New York between 1965-1969 consumed twice the energy per unit of floor area than buildings built between 1950 and 1954.

This could be due to the differences in the window-to wall ratios between these types of buildings. While the later buildings had a ratio between 53% and 72%, the earlier buildings’ ratio sat between 23% to 32%. This means that the heat was allowed into and out more buildings during summer and winter, which increased their need for artificial cooling or heating.

An apartment building with red, yellow and blue external features
The Cité de Refuge after its refurbishment, with external shades and opaque glass.

Another problem with fully glazed façades is the excessive glare they cause inside buildings, which means that indoor blinds must be pulled down most of the time. This blocks occupants’ views to the outside and increases reliance on artificial lighting, increasing energy consumption even further.

These problems with fully glazed façades still plague buildings today. Nowadays, parametrically designed shading devices can be used as a solution. While they can block outside views for those who work inside, they are not ideal for outdoor viewing. artificial light.

Limiting freedoms

Should we stop architects from expressing their artistic freedom in designing buildings that harm the planet? One solution is to limit the energy a building can consume. This would require architects use passive design strategies – techniques that enable humans to live in challenging climates without expending unnecessary energy.

In the year 400 BC, Persians had found a clever way to make their lives easier. Keep ice in stock during hot summer months using ice pits called “yakhchals”. These were vaulted reservoirs up to 15m high and six metres deep.

By allowing hot air to exit through an opening at the top of the reservoir and burying ice deep in the earth, the base of the yakhchal – and the ice inside – would Keep it coldAll summer.

The modern era’s example is the Complex for Inspector General of PoliceIndia: A wind tower equipped with water sprays creates a comfortable environment in a hot, humid climate. Droplets from the sprays absorb heat from incoming air, reducing the air’s temperature by up to 13°C before it enters the building.

It’s vital to first decide how best to measure buildings’ maximum energy limit. In current building energy rating schemes, “energy use intensity” is often used, which refers to the amount of energy consumed per unit of floor area.

A brick building in the desert
This yakhchal, Iran, was used to keep ice cold.
Jeanne Menj/Wikimedia

This metric has a flaw in that it allows for large, extravagant buildings to be certified as such. Low energy. A more appropriate metric could focus on energy consumed in relation to the number of people using a building – in other words, a building’s energy use per person.

Making masterpieces

A possible objection is that this could result in “boring” buildings with no aesthetic appeal. In this instance, architects could be encouraged to express their creativity by creating structures that aren’t designed to house people and require little or no operational energy.

This would greatly reduce the environmental impact from such architectural masterpieces. On average, 80% to 90% of a building’s carbon emissions arise from operating it, not building it.

What’s more, many iconic buildings have failed to function as they were designed to. Mies von der Rohe’s New National Gallery in Berlin suffered from cracking windows and heavy condensation, while Frank Gehry’s MIT-based Stata CentreMassachusetts has a lot of mold and leaky roofs. These buildings were not demolished but are examples of high-quality design.

Perhaps architects could channel their daring aesthetics into sculpture-like structures instead of buildings for habitation to continue pushing the boundaries of design without making the planet suffer.


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