• by mr. diego pardo

    The Future: Sustainable Architecture

    It is inherently human to construct in order to protect us from the natural elements. We can see this instinct as far back as the early Homo erectus who frequented the same spot in the coast of Nice, France. Here, this group of Homo erectus undertook the task of creating every year a dwelling from wooden structural members and utilizing rocks placed around the perimeter to erect their structure. This construction, called the Terra Amata, is believed to be the earliest known human-constructed dwelling (Roth 161). The most interesting fact about it, is not that it is one of the first constructions created by humans, but that in this age of information, characterized by its ample use of human made materials such as steel, reinforce concrete, and glass; we want to return to constructing with these simple raw materials like wood, flora, and rocks. This movement to create buildings using biodegradable and ecological resources to limit the impact of construction on the environment is called sustainable architecture. This architectural movement to go green has faced different kinds of objection regarding material sources, reliability, and costs but the reoccurring critique coming from the architectural world is how the implementation of environmental sciences will affect the aesthetic design of architecture. Many believe that the artistic quality of architecture will be undermined with the aspect of sustainability but through investigation and research; we can show that aesthetics can be incorporated into environmental friendly buildings, therefore creating an architectural style that is sustainable and visually pleasing.
    As we begin to notice the damaging effects we have caused on our environment, it is clear to us that our current methods have to be changed in order to improve the health of our planet. One technique that has surfaced is the implementation of sustainable building design to combat the destruction of the environment. Sustainable architecture is a broad term used to describe the environmentally conscious effort in the field of architecture.
    The implementation of early sustainable architecture first began in the 1970s as many prominent architects began to use simple sustainable techniques to design their buildings. One clear example of this is the Frederick C. Robie House in Chicago by Frank Lloyd Wright. The design of the house fully implements to use of roof overhangs to maintain the temperature inside the building (Roth 143). These overhangs that surround the house cast a shadow in the summer months, disallowing the sun to penetrated within the building and heating it up, and allows the passage of the sunlight into the house in the winter months to keep it warm. This simple but yet efficient technique allowed for the reduced use of electrical appliances to maintain comfortable living conditions, therefore reducing the consumption of energy and the emission of hazardous gasses into the atmosphere.
    This technique is an example of passive solar heating systems. These work by allowing solar radiation to fall on thermal masses, such as floors and masonry walls, which soak up the heat and then radiate it back into the building at night (Cunningham, Cunningham, and Saigo 454). Passive solar heating systems are usually also implemented with active solar heating systems to allow for more precise control. With active solar heating systems, collector panels absorb solar radiation, and a fluid circulating in pipes through the panels picks up the solar heat and transfers it around the building (Cunningham, Cunningham, and Saigo 455).
    Solar radiation is a source of heat that helps to maintain warm living conditions within a building, but in hot climates solar radiation can increase the interior temperature to unlivable levels. In these regions of the world, such as India, windows are not made from glass but instead are composed of pierced panels of carved marble. This is implemented to reflect the solar radiation away from the building and to allow the circulation of air throughout the construction (Roth 140).
    Architects such as Le Corbusier also implemented parasol-like roofs on top of their buildings to shadow the structure from the radiation of the sun. These parasols where mainly very large roof overhangs that would create a vast shadow on the building. Le Corbusier went a step forward as to not only include the parasols on his High Court Building in India, but to create large vent-like openings below the roof to allow currents of cool air to circulate through and air-condition the building (Roth 144).
    Another method of sustainability is to use natural elements such as the wind to influence the temperature within a structure. This works because buildings are affected not only by exposure to the sun but also by the exposure to the wind. As moving air comes across a structure, it moves around the path of least resistance. On the windward side, a high-pressure zone develops, and on the leeward side a low-pressure zone is created (Roth 145). Examples of this technique can be seen throughout the Middle East as traditional houses implement openings for outside air to provide ventilation. Most notably, the ancient Roman Pantheon utilizes this system, as the wind rises to go over the dome of the Pantheon in Rome, the air speeds up and pulls the air out of the oculus at the top. These then creates a cooling effect without the implementation of electrical appliances.
    Techniques that utilize openings in structures to allow the circulation of air through out the structure have been implemented since ancient times (Roth 140). It was not until the invention of the heating and air conditioning systems that these methods of natural climate control were almost completely disregarded. Sustainable systems to control the temperature within a building, such as exploiting solar radiation and wind flow, would greatly reduce the amount of energy required to maintain a comfortable living environment within a structure. Moreover, these systems are environmentally friendly as they are part of nature and would drastically reduce the amount of pollutant gasses emitted and the amount of energy consumed by the building. Therefore, if architects were to implement more methods of sustainable design, buildings would consume less electricity. This would be especially helpful in large cities, as in the summer months the use of air-conditioning systems could reduce the consumption of electricity of the drained power-grids. Also, in the winter months, much of the pollution and smog could be reduced as buildings could diminish their dependability on their furnaces for heating.
    These systems of climate control mostly only focused on creating comfortable living conditions within the interior of a building through modifications of its design. They are very effective in reducing consumption of electricity and the pollution of air with gas emissions, but they fail to create a structure that is part of the environment. Currently, all buildings are a barriers to their ecosystems, they lack the ability to work and become part of the ecosphere. In order to reduce and possibly reverse the devastating human impact on the environment, we have to integrate our new constructions literally with nature.
    This quest to create a new architecture that will mimic its environment is currently being researched by introducing aspects of different sciences into the field of architecture. Primarily, environmental sciences are being intertwined into architecture to create new buildings that will have a minimal, or no impact on the environment. As the movement of sustainable architecture gains more popularity, this new type of construction will most certainly be the next generation of buildings.
    One of the leading movements to create a style of architecture that reflects and is integrated into its environment is plectic systems architecture. This new architectural style is being developed at the Bartlett School of Architecture by Neil Spiller and Rachael Armstrong. They are proposing that architecture can have several aspects of living systems in the ecosystem. Plectic systems architecture can be described as “living architecture”, as it utilizes materials science to generate “fundamental components”. These components would display “self-organizing properties”. In other words, plectic systems architecture could create building materials that acquire “properties of living systems such as growth, repair, sensitivity or complex behavior” (Armstrong 81).
    Implementing this architectural system into new buildings would create constructions that not only are part of the environment, as they posses building materials that are living, but constructions that would respond and adapt themselves to a changing environment. This would be revolutionary as the barrier between architecture and nature would be broken, truly creating a sustainable style of architecture. Further, plectic systems architecture would remove the use of different building materials that through time deteriorate and release toxic pollutants into the soil, air, and even water table. It would also reduce the amount of trash and debris created if a building were to be demolished.
    By utilizing plectic systems architecture and the different architectural techniques previously mentioned, it would be possible to construct new buildings that have a small impact on the environment. Such a revolution in the way we construct would ultimately reduce the harmful impact current buildings have on their ecosystems, improving the health of our planet. There is practically no discussion in architecture that opposes the construction of environmentally friendly buildings as they would have such an influential impact in the world, but critics do worry that implementing complex sciences into the architectural world will diminish the aestheticism of the field.
    Critics believe that if new science-based architectural styles such as plectic systems architecture begin to be implemented, it will distract architects from designing buildings that are visually pleasing. They believe that architects will only focus on the functionality of sustainability, disregarding the design quality of the construction. Many have criticized that architects will have to master two fields, one in the arts and the other in the sciences (Owen and Dovey 9). But when the study of becoming an architect is analyzed, it is clear that architects need to master principles both in the arts and sciences. Modern architects need to master aspects such as drawing, design, and conceptualization, but also mathematics, physics, and properties of engineering. Adding the principle of environmental sciences will not radicalize the field of architecture, it will just simple be a new technique that will have to be learn to construct in today’s times.
    This then raises the question, how should sustainability look like? Ursula Seibold-Bultmann attempts to answer this ever growing concern in her article, “What does sustainability look like? Green architecture as an aesthetic proposition.” She states that buildings can embody qualities that not only fulfill the sustainability of modern architecture, but that can also incorporate desirable aesthetic design (p. 5). Her argument that sustainable buildings can be visually attractive can be seen in recent eco-friendly buildings such as the Sobek House in Stuttgart, Germany and the Alterra Institute in the Netherlands (The Sustainable City).
    Even though these buildings are not an example of a plectic systems architecture construction, these buildings successfully incorporate aspects of today’s practice of sustainable architecture. They utilizes natural sources for interior climate control, use materials that create little to no damage to the environment, use flora to clean the air, and allow natural light to penetrate the interior to reduce the use of artificial lights (The Sustainable City). The Sobek House and Alterra Institute reflect the latest possible design qualities of sustainable architecture. These buildings not only have become pinnacles of green design, they also fully reflect aspects of modern aesthetics in their facades and interiors. This two examples are a representation that sustainable architecture does not, and will not, be ugly. It clearly demonstrates that the design of green buildings will incorporate modern and posh designs that the public will find very pleasing.
    The task to move forward toward sustainable architecture that is aesthetically pleasing reflects the description of many prominent architects that architecture is the reflection of the people and culture of those that build it. Currently, society has become aware that we need sustainability if we want to save the environment. Therefore, through social pressures architects will have to begin to design buildings that greatly reduce their impact on the ecosystem. If architects are not able to create green designs, they will not be contracted by patrons, therefore leaving only those that embrace eco-friendly architectural plans.
    This change to sustainable architecture also reflects the teachings of the great ancient Roman architect Vitruvius. He stated that all architecture needed to fulfill three elements: commodity, firmness, and delight (Vitruvius Architecture). By this, Vitruvius meant that commodity was the function of the building, firmness was the structure, and delight was the beauty of the construction. Throughout the history of architecture, architects have interpreted these through the societal norms of their time. Today, buildings need to reduce their impact on the environment therefore redefining the meaning of the three principles. For the modern architect commodity, or the function of the building, is that which reduces its detrimental impact on the ecosystem. It also needs to reduce its consumption of energy and emission of toxic gasses. The definition for firmness now also incorporates a structure that utilizes materials that are biodegradable and recyclable in its structure. Finally, the delight or beauty of the building needs to incorporate aspects of sustainable design but also construct a building that is attractive and aesthetically appealing.
    Architects have followed these basic but assertive principles since ancient Roman times. They reflect the properties of architecture and help to guide the architect into producing a design that reflects the culture of the people. In order for current architects to fulfill these requirements, they will have to embrace sustainable architecture. Not only this, they will be contributing in the change towards a better environment and a healthy world.
    As we become aware that our actions towards the environment have been detrimental, we will begin to embrace sustainable architecture. This movement first started in the 1970s and has gained momentum since. It incorporates many aspects of design, but as the field develops more science-based techniques will be added. Many criticize and worry that architecture will begin to disregard its principle aspect of aesthetic for the utilitarian purpose of sustainability. Current examples of green buildings show otherwise, depicting visually pleasing designs that are also environmentally friendly. Architects will have to embrace sustainable design in order to maintain their careers, otherwise through social pressures they will be taken out of business. As we move toward the future, we begin to notice that in some perspective, architecture is going back to the past. As with new methods like plectic styles architecture, we will be constructing with organic-like materials like the Homo erectus at Terra Amata. Architecture is once again evolving from human inspired designs to the beauty of the designs of nature in order to become more sustainable.
    Copyright Diego Pardo.


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